CEO worship is strange and deserves proper symptomatology.
Twitter users might be familiar with the “nerds defending Elon Musk” meme.
It’s an apt meme which at this point is de facto the best response to any of Musk’s extremely defensive supporters on Twitter. There’s seriously a large group of people who think that any criticism towards Musk’s radical centrism and plans for combating impending climate disaster — with Mars colonies, in case you forgot — are plebeian haters who don’t recognize his brilliance.
Somewhat similar to that meme, Bill Burr had a famous bit where he made fun of Steve Jobs by simply asking what he actually does for Apple that warrants his celebrity other than being an obnoxious taskmaster. Burr’s right, he was pretty much a face and persona that strategically bridged the tech nerd of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s with the ‘70s cool rock of an aged Beatles’ fan in service of investor and consumer fascination.
Jeff Bezos, who is unequivocally one of the wealthiest human beings ever, uses his grotesque wealth to do the most obvious things that billionaires would do including 10-minute-long space tourist flights and buying massive carbon-spewing yachts. He doesn’t even have the odd villainy antics of Musk, yet he still has a cult following in the social media hustle culture/manosphere ecosystem where he is treated like a god instead of sublimely boring. That’s the charm of comedian Bo Burnham’s Jeff Bezos song. Bezos is so dime-a-dozen that Burnham gave him a villain’s theme.
All of this goes to show that despite pioneering sociologist Max Weber’s idea that the age of enlightenment brought with it the “disenchantment of the world,” there’s still a surviving archaic want to have king and queen figures in society even when we (mostly) don’t let them rule us anymore. The ongoing mourning of the late Queen Elizabeth II is only further evidence of this.
Historians are fairly divided on exactly when the position of Chief Executive Officer was formed but generally agree it was sometime in the early part of the last century when tech giants like Thomas Edison and Henry Ford created massive corporate organizations around their mass-produced intellectual property.
As we’ve transitioned from an industrial economy in the last couple centuries into the information and service economy of today, the hyperinflated sense of importance afforded to the CEO class is increasingly a performative action as most of them are just owners of property and profits and in terms of work are knowledgeable, experienced managers. To that effect there are still massive critiques that can be thrown the way of a Henry Ford, including collaborating with the Nazis and pioneering the assembly-line setup which ensured higher profits at the cost of systematically forcing workers into low-skill, alienating, iterative positions of work.
Let’s return to the world of tech where Steve Jobs was by all means the greatest example of CEO mysticism. His longtime partner Steve Wozniak has been on record saying that Jobs never knew how to code in contrast to himself or Bill Gates. He was, however, an unmatched performer who understood how to tap into and become the object of a cultural fascination with the burgeoning world of commercial technology. That being said, to expect CEOs to be highly technically proficient would be tantamount to a capitalist technocracy which introduces a host of issues.
A CEO-type position can be a kind of PR manager who even gets paid more than the average worker in the corporation. However, they shouldn’t be an overly paid cult figure who has autocratic rule over company profits. Let’s not forget that Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook with the intention of rating college student’s levels of attractiveness at Harvard. Now he is one of the most powerful human beings to ever exist.
A worker co-op, like the federation of worker co-ops known as Mandrogon located in Spain, could democratically elect a CEO-type worker to the board of directors who has the interest of the workers in mind when they decide on what to do with profits and representation of the organization. It makes far more sense this way and gets rid of the parasitic, cult-like relationship that CEOs have with the public.