The majority of people living today are seriously affected by business on several levels. Not only because they can’t avoid taking part in it but also because their life is influenced by several pseudo-values that they receive – mostly gladly – directly from the business world.
To criticize business has become good business: it has evolved into the consulting industry and produced a lucrative specialization in academia. However the consulting business and academia, financed by business, never cross over a certain line. While the whole question of critique could be elegantly taken care of by simply pointing out -as others have already done- that capitalism is the economics aspect of liberalism and modern business – both as a system and as an organizational form – is the product of capitalism, the issue would remain too abstract for the majority to recognize its negative effects on their own thinking and life. Thus it would be perhaps useful to select some of the most absurd manifestations of the business world and take a closer look at them. We have of course addressed this with our book, on this website we’ll provide some additional details.
Our current topic is selected from the inexhaustible domain of the “corporate world” (F2000, venture backed startups, venture firms, private equity firms, etc: everything but small business): the personality cult.
Corporations are a modern phenomena, never before in the history of mankind could have emerged such an organizational form; they exhibit the polar opposite of organic organizations: highly mechanical entities created artificially for the purpose of maximizing profits. Profit itself has become a pseudo-ideology providing the only reason for the existence of the company. This is well known. It’s almost a cliche that people within the organization are reduced to being clogs in a machine. Yet: very few do reflect on what this actually means: that the factors of what makes them human are eliminated in their work environment and they are turned into strange, cyborg-like creatures even the most basic instincts of which are hardly functioning. This is what is commonly referred to as “professionalism”. We’ll address this in a separate post.
It’s interesting, although not surprising that the majority has has positive connotations about big corporations; the bigger they are, the better. Those not employed by them want to get in and those who are in, are able to completely identify with an abstract corporate brand and image.
When it comes to the desire of “getting hired” we should also notice that although it is completely contrary to elemental logic, the bigger the corporation is, the more prestigious it is considered to be able to get in and eventually become a part of the machine. To be fair this is truer nowadays in developing countries then in “advanced economies”. There are cases, like in the Silicon Valley when besides size, the coolness factor is also significant. What’s perceived to be cool is mostly the star appeal of the VC and/or the founder of the startup and of course how grandiose the vision is to make a dent in the universe or to at least to make the world a better place. There are of course quite particular interpretations behind these grand visions not only at startups but at big corporations, too; the workers in a simple project management software developer firm are just as convinced that they are making the world a better place as those working on the self-driving cars at Tesla, or at facebook, perhaps at Nestle whose board aims at eliminating the right for free drinking water.
This has lead to situations like that at Google for example, where -according to their own estimates- the proportion of PhD’s with the highest IQ working on tasks way below their potential is the highest in the industry – there is nothing to add to the relationship between IQ tests and actual intelligence. The highly paid but thus humiliated talent forms the target of daily jokes among the celebrated founders (celebrated by the same pathetic, overpaid, high IQ slaves).
Right around the time the mid-management phenomenon appeared in corporations, careers used to play an important role and although it may be weakening nowadays, they are still an important factor since people don’t show themselves that ready (yet) to sacrifice their life purely for money.
The promise of a career is that the company offers context and an environment for self-realization. This audacious scam implies that whoever is higher on the corporate hierarchy is a more perfect life form than whoever is lower: a better “person”. Nothing is farther from the truth. The prerequisite of a successful career is the adoption and representation of a false ideology.
It’s characteristic of sect members that although on the level of rationality they may understand the absurd concept of self-realization in context of a career, they, due to some dim loyalty, readily forget rational considerations.
The parallels between personality cults and the celebrity phenomenon are obvious but there’s more. While the celebrity phenomenon symbolizes the way and the style that is necessary for success at the moment, the ideology that lies behind the personality cults at large corporations is the same that defines communism, the other social aspect of materialism. The style of course always reflects the ideology. Personality cult as organizational style is characteristic of both capitalism and communism. The common denominator among Steve Jobs, Ceausescu, Jack Welsh, Fidel Castro, Larry Page, Peter Brabeck/Letmathe, “The Zuck”, “the Donald”, Stalin, Elon Musk, etc. is the applauding mass. Mass, because the individual that builds it doesn’t have an identity; they can adapt to anything, they can accept anything, they can follow anybody.
It’s ironic how fashionable is the leadership issue in the corporate world; how “business philosophers” create theories for differentiation between leadership and management typically assigning an ideological imperative to leaders which is of course always about liberal ideologies: it is decidedly difficult to come across with a CEO that exhibits monarchist views.
Due to the complete dominance of an absurd quantitative value system, the celebrated corporate leaders are also evaluated and judged exclusively by performance which mostly means growth and which may only be achieved by manipulation and cheating. People are ready to look the other way when it comes to certain character flaws and if necessary are prepared to blatantly sugarcoat these; this is how stupidity becomes creativity, criminal tendencies become commitment or flexibility, an out of control small man becomes tough or a straight shooter, perhaps sincere and pcyhopaths become horribile dictu charismatic.
Only the mass-man is able without hesitation to refer to a CEO or others as our leader, who are qualitatively not different from them, having the same orientation, the same fields of interest, goals and even the same style.
Perhaps we have all heard opinions (mostly from people who are the farthest from the coveted CEO post), proving all this, that “if he made it to the top he can’t be stupid” and similar, through their bizarre reasoning inadvertently depicting themselves as stupid or perhaps lazy (hard work being perceived as a typical success factor to reaching the top). Our points are also proved by people on the other side, by those who consider themselves men of success (for example because they have reached the top or did so in the past) and now present themselves as “gurus”and are indiscriminately spreading not only career advice to their grateful audience but – and this is much more unfortunate – also advice on life itself which is just as readily absorbed by the mass following the flowed logic of “if he made it in business he must also know how to live”.
As a closing remark it is perhaps not superfluous to mention the true leaders of past eras who manifested themselves as rulers and who called forth organic organizations and who, representing the Truth, were not vying for acknowledgement and who were followed and respected by the very best; all this in an age where there was no room for the mass in manifest existence.
It is very likely that in a theoretical scenario of a meeting between for example Romulus and a mass-man of today, the latter would experience an ontological fear since the existence of the former excludes the existence of the latter. This fear is obviously deeper than merely the fear for one’s life.