There’s a joke about Alexander The Great.
What made him so much better than all the other conquerors wasn’t the size of his empire. It wasn’t his strength or intelligence. It’s that he gave his enemies a chance to surrender before he massacred them and sold their women and children into slavery. It gave him a reputation for being a relatively enlightened guy.
Our heroes don’t carry swords anymore. We don’t compose epic poems about their glorious battles.
We write listicles.
If you want to go viral like Homer did circa 800 B.C.E., you write something about one of the world’s mega-billionaires. You explain some little secret about their success, like how they learn incredibly fast — or how good they are with people (even if they’re incredible assholes in real life). Write it in just the right way, and you have a hit.
People love reading these articles for one simple reason: They want to be like the person they’re reading about, and these articles make it look immensely doable. It’s advice and wish-fulfillment all at once, in five minutes. If you can explain the so-called secret to someone’s success in a way that makes it appear simple and easy (i.e. not a secret at all), then you stroke readers’ egos and make them feel good about themselves. You allow them to see themselves in the rock star everyone adores.
Of course, these billionaires rarely demonstrate the traits we ascribe to them, and those traits are definitely not the secret to their success. In case you missed the last few thousand years of western civilization, the most powerful people in the world aren’t nice. They’re not fair. They don’t play by the rules. They’re brutal. They cheat.
Often, they’re simply in the right place at the right time — and they exploit that to their advantage, often at everyone’s expense.
Here are five examples:
Steve Jobs didn’t invent the computer. Steve Wozniak did. He also didn’t invent smartphones or touch screens.
These technologies already existed. In fact, Jobs almost stopped Apple from releasing the first iPhone. A covert team developed it in complete secrecy from him, in order to avoid his caustic skepticism. So you might say the iPhone happened despite Jobs, not because of him.
All this aside, is your life really that much better because you have a smartphone?
I barely use mine anymore…
Meanwhile, the toxic waste and byproducts generated by our obsession with smart devices is hastening the destruction of the planet.
Steve Jobs was also a pretty gigantic asshole for the majority of his life, and not just to his employees. He abandoned his family and forced his daughter to grow up without a father. He spent years denying his paternity, even after DNA tests proved it. When she came to visit him on his death bed, he told her she smelled like a toilet.
Steve Jobs didn’t just die of cancer. He died of an extremely treatable form of cancer, because he rejected science and opted for alternative medicine and juice cleanses. His fans don’t like hearing about this because it makes their hero sound, well, kind of dumb. The truth is, Silicon Valley turned Steve Jobs into a saint because it sells gadgets.
Elon Musk has been promising us an affordable electric car for over a decade now. He’s used that promise to win billions of dollars in tax breaks and seed money, while actively undermining any green projects he sees as a threat to his own enterprise. Basically, he’s the biggest example of corporate freeloading you could imagine. Tesla’s stock is plummeting now because people are finally starting to realize that other companies will be the ones to save us from our dependence on fossil fuels.
In fact, critics say Tesla’s solar technology will enable grid defection: “resource-intensive solar separatism for the rich and the geographically lucky who hide in their affluent enclaves.”
If that weren’t enough, Musk fires indispensable employees whenever they ask for better pay, or to be treated like a human being.
Musk starts feuds with people over Twitter. He also turned his son’s name into a massive ego display.
Elon Musk told his first wife, “I’m the alpha of this relationship” on their wedding day of all days. He spent the next several years belittling her career and demanding she put her own professional goals aside in order to masquerade as the perfect trophy wife. In the end, she sees herself a starter-wife to a billionaire who uses women as accessories.
What the world admires about Elon Musk isn’t his intelligence, or his environmental conscience.
It’s his ego, plain and simple.
Millions of men look up to Elon Musk because his obscene wealth allows him to do and say whatever he wants, without consequence. He can send the price of stock and assets like bitcoin soaring with a single tweet.
That’s what they want.
Bezos conducts a masterful public relations campaign that allows customers to believe Amazon isn’t completely destroying the environment, or working its employees literally to death.
In fact, it is.
If that weren’t enough, Bezos and his company use every underhanded tactic known to civilization in order to cheapen its labor costs and avoid taxes. They’ve literally been caught stealing tips. Bezos himself pays almost nothing in state income tax, while the rest of us are forced to make up the difference. He cuts health insurance from his employees, then has the audacity to say in public that he has no idea how to spend his immense wealth, other than moving to Mars or cloning himself.
He actually said something to that effect:
“The only way that I can see to deploy this much financial resource is by converting my Amazon winnings into space travel. That is basically it.” — Jeff Bezos
Bezos is also divorced. A pattern seems to be emerging here among the planet’s wealthiest men and their relationships. Women can’t seem to stand being around them for very long.
Maybe it’s how they treat people.
I can’t stand Oprah. There, I finally said it.
Oprah isn’t a hard-hitting journalist. She isn’t profound. She caters to the lowest common denominator, the suburban housewives of America, who need to feel special and important because nobody else treats them with any respect. Oprah figured this out early on in her career. They’ve been her core audience from the start.
Oprah rode to fame on satanic panics and woo-woo spirituality. She’s a chief architect of the magical thinking that now fuels QAnon-style conspiracy theories and anti-vaccine movements.
Oprah has spent a lifetime coddling intellectual fragility, while manufacturing controversy and outrage for profit. She’s a smarter version of Tucker Carlson, who knows how to say exactly what liberals want to hear. She’s not progressive because she actually believes in progressive ideas or economic policy. She’s liberal because it’s good for business.
According to actual nutritionists, Oprah’s Weight Watchers doesn’t work. It’s built on platitudes and pseudo-science, and encourages unhealthy eating habits. People have left Weight Watchers worse off than they were. The weight they lose is largely muscle mass, not fat.
Oprah doesn’t seem to notice.
The most important thing to Oprah will always be her image. The second most important thing is influence.
The third is money.
All the self-help gurus quietly stopped dropping Tony Robbins into their listicles sometime last year. I guess someone finally told them about all the evidence that he’s a sexual predator…
I like the early work of Tony Robbins. Now his seminars are full of platitudes and product placement. He’ll let anyone speak at his events, even Rachel Hollis — who almost makes me want to expand this article to cover the six most overrated people on the planet. But that would mean I’d have to talk about Rachel Hollis, and it’s just not worth it.
The more you learn about Tony Robbins, the more you find out his real secret. He only knows how to succeed if you’re a big, good-looking white guy like him. Otherwise, his advice doesn’t work.
As the father of contemporary self-help, Tony Robbins has done very little to address the systemic inequalities that often keep his advice from working like it should. Instead, he doubles down on it and refuses to consider the fact that maybe believing in yourself isn’t enough in the twenty-first century. It sends a pretty terrible message to everyone.
Of course, the worst thing about Tony Robbins is that he apparently spent most of his career telling people to stand up for themselves, while preying on women and bullying them.
It’s a bit of a downer.
These People Have one Thing in Common
So, apparently these are the five most successful people in the world. They have the most money. They have the most influence.
They’re kind of awful.
If we’re honest with ourselves, we can see how we’ve created a mythology around these individuals. We tell stories about them that never really happened. We ascribe pithy quotes to them they didn’t really say. We turn them into mirrors of our own personal desires.
It’s hard to acknowledge the truth about someone once they’ve been enshrined in your culture. Questioning their status would mean you have to question a lot of your society’s values and principles.
Most people don’t want to do that.
It’s easier to just keep praising the same handful of elites, no matter how truly predatory or self-interested they are in reality. That’s the situation we’re in now. If society is ever going to change, then we have to be willing to tell the hard truth about our heroes.