Who doesn’t love a good story?
Like a story of overcoming adversity, of perseverance, of triumph? We like those who buck the status quo, who disrupt industries, and who despite being pioneers and trailblazers, who make it all seem within reach.
These folx, who we call visionaries, are able to see past the present into a bold and daring future. They ask courageous questions, push people out of their comfort zones, and demand people be willing to sacrifice for their vision.
There’s just one problem.
Most of the time, these stories are made up, grade-A, horse shit.
“The visionary” is, quite possibly, capitalism’s greatest illusion and we, apparently, never seem to get tired of it.
Here’s what I mean…
Next up, on the cover of Forbes…
Who will be the next genius, “visionary” to grace the cover of Forbes?
Sadly, that honor has become a bit like the Madden Curse as titan-after-titan industry is revealed to be a fraud or greatly exaggerated. Whether shown on Forbes, Fortune, Time, or Bloomberg, there is a disturbing trend of people cast as visionaries, who turn out to be sociopaths and liars, being showered with praise.
SBF & FTX
Sam Bankman-Fried (or “SBF” as he’s apparently known) was on the cover of Forbes in October 2021. He was the founder of FTX, a crypto-currency exchange, and Alameda Research, a trading firm. At one point he was worth of $26 BILLION dollars. In October is was $10.5 Billion, and then…
Less than a week ago, FTX filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy and sent catastrophic ripples through both crypto markets and financial markets. Turns out, the whole thing was being run like a ponzi scheme. Oh, and rumor has it that SBF is in the Bahamas with millions of other people’s money. What a visionary!
Remember Elizabeth Holmes?
She threw on a black turtleneck, artificially deepened her voice, and pretended that her solution worked. That was enough for her to be hailed “the next Steve Jobs.” Forbes now has her net worth at $0 and she was found guilty on 4 out of 13 charges.
Behold, the visionary.
Has anyone actually met Zuck in the Metaverse?
The answer is no. That shit is stupid. It looks like Second Life circa 2007, but where no one has feet.
After countless privacy violations, subjecting users to psychological experiments without consent, flooding the world with unrestricted misinformation, helping foreign nations to disrupt our elections, engaging in a pattern of obviously anti-competitive monopolistic business practices, and most recently guiding his company to losing more than a $700 billion loss in value — in about one year — by betting on a stupid vision of wearing VR goggle to simulate a cubicle, Zuck is a special kind of “visionary” billionaire. Don’t worry though, only 11,000 people were laid off.
He got lucky and built a social network at the right time, ripped off features from everyone else, bought up any competition, and even after every failure listed above still has a net worth of $41 Billion dollars.
I don’t think it’s hyperbolic to suggest that his influence on the world has been profoundly negative and had he never been born (and Facebook never created), families everywhere might’ve been able to enjoy Thanksgiving together without Uncle Ronnie screaming about George Soros, “the Jews,” and “the COVID hoax” before the turkey is even carved.
Last one for today…who is that one guy?
You know, the one who buys his way into every company he’s known for, then walks around like he’s invented everything yet has inventing nothing. You know the one, the guy who got his start in business using seed money from an apartheid emerald mine?
Oh right! Everyone’s favorite “we’re actually going to Mars” despite how remarkably impractical it is, guy: Elon Cornelius-James-Funky-Corn-Husk Musk III. That’s his actual name, look it up.
Rather than following through on the vision to SOLVE WORLD HUNGER for $6 Billion, the world’s richest man decided to overpay for a social network — that was barely ever profitable — for $44 Billion dollars, apparently just so he could be the one to decide who gets to be mean on there.
But it’s more than just being petty, that’s not a reason to question his “visionary” status. Elon is also just not good at any of the things he claims to be good at.
For starters, he’s never actually invented anything except a video game called Blaster in 1984. Everything he is known for was invented by people at his companies. He just owns the means of production so he gets to strut out on stage and take the credit.
Think less Tony Stark and more Tony Baloney.
Most recently, he’s come into Twitter as Chief Twit (hey guys, look how funny I am!) and, under the guise of being a “first-principles” billionaire genius has made decision after decision that has harmed the company, including a plan to fire 75% of the company. He’s wiped out departments and features that are profoundly important for an established company but also simply for Twitter to function.
As an example, if you have 2FA turned on to secure your account, make sure you turn it off before logging out, lest you be locked out since Elon felt it was important to turn off “micro-features,” like security.
I have to admit it is remarkable that is has taken Musk less than a month to virtually destroy Twitter. But wait, there’s more…
He’s lies, repeatedly.
Like about Tesla’s full auto-pilot, coming next year.
He’s framed himself as the cure for climate change and while he should get some credit for making EVs cool, Tesla is hardly making a dent in the climate problem. Telsa sells a paltry number of cars compared to the industry, and it’s stock price is largely based CEO swagger and bluster, and the carbon credits it sells to other automakers. So, any of the credit Tesla could get for replacing fossil fuel cars with electric cars, is smoke in mirrors. They don’t sell enough vehicles and they offset their impact by selling off their impact to gas-based car manufacturers.
It goes on and on. If you pray at the alter of Musk, I suggest you have a stiff drink and re-examine your life choices.
The System Needs Visionaries
You’ll also probably notice that all of these visionaries are either white men or women, or people of color who don’t threaten to disrupt the status quo of white supremacy. There are so many at this point, I could list other “visionaries” who are full of it, for another 20,000 words, but let’s wrap this up.
The ENTIRE system of capitalism naturally results in a small group of people capturing and hoarding unimaginable sums of wealth and then using that money to influence politics and society. Everything else, for everyone else, is structured around scarcity and crisis. None of these transgressions harm the owner class, and even the greatest offenders are rarely adequately punished for the tremendous damage they’ve done. All of the BS mentioned above has made a relatively small number of people profoundly and incomprehensibly rich while everyone else foots the bill and suffers the consequences for their bad decisions.
This system needs “the visionary” because it is the story we want to believe. It’s what keeps us hanging onto the notion that the idea we had in the shower could be our ticket to the cover of Forbes. It’s what gives us hope for safety in the midst of uncertainty. It’s why the press is always quick to serve it up, hot and ready, and why we gobble it down.
But “visionaries” are misdirection. It’s one of the tricks that makes the illusion work. If we keep looking at every bright, shiny, socially-awkward wunderkind with our hopes and dreams pinned on them saving us, we won’t have time to focus on the bigger picture. We won’t have time to organize together for a world that is better for all of us.
Closer to Home
I have two good friends who are both brilliant, both hard working, and have both contributed significantly to their former company’s success, financially and culturally. They’ve been loyal, they’ve been ambassadors, they’ve traveled far from home and families for the company. Both are now job hunting as a result of “leadership’s” new “vision” for the company.
You know what they say…
When the going gets tough, start the layoffs and preserve capital for owners.
Your loyalty will not be repaid, but feel free to grab a coffee from the cafe on your way out, after cleaning out your cubicle.
In some ways and in many cases, it’s not the fault of these companies. COVID revealed that after only a few months the house of cards is always painfully close to collapsing. Many companies really don’t have enough money to keep paying people when their revenue dips. Many companies really can’t afford maternity/paternity leave. And, really, who can afford severance and healthcare costs when a recession is so close to hitting (every 8-10 years)?
So, who do we blame and what is to be done?
Dispense with the myths
The first thing we need to do is stop buying the hype.
These visionaries we hear so much about are no better than the rest of us, and in most cases they are worse. They cause more harm, and do it under conditions of impunity. Once you see the trick, you can stop being fooled by the illusion.
Stop stanning for billionaires and their “right” to low taxes because they sure as heck aren’t advocating for your interest. You are labor, livestock, a replaceable cog. Billionaires are not your friend. Remember that.
The second thing we need to do is start thinking and behaving more collectively.
Stop fighting with your co-workers, and start organizing for better treatment. If you are a manager, advocate for the people you manage, not the owners. Stop voting for people who tell you that other regular-ass people are the problem and start seeing solidarity with everyone who doesn’t get to sit down with Heads of State at Davos.
“Hey Siri…what is class consciousness?”
As a rule, if the whole thing were to come crashing down, don’t side with the people who crashed it, in spite of all the warning signs, and who built bunkers to hide in.
Third, we need to stop stealing people’s ideas and passing them off as our own.
They all seem to do it, but it’s not just for billionaires.
Stroll through the Linkedin newsfeed, TikTok’s For You, and Instagram Reels and you’ll see countless copycats trying to hit it big using other people’s content and ideas. Groups most frequently targeted for content and culture theft are black and brown creators who seem doomed to linger in obscurity as white creators go viral and find fame after wholesale ripping off their stories, skits, dances, and even full length video scripts.
Always give credit.
Finally, stop trying to be a “visionary.”
To be clear, I’m not telling you to stop dreaming big ideas. I’m not telling you to stop being brilliant and trying to solve big problems. I’m not telling you to lose hope.
I’m telling you to stop dreaming about the fame and fortune that comes with it.
If you want to become superhuman, don’t do it for the money, don’t do it for the fame, and definitely don’t “do it for the lolz,” Elon!
Do it because you actually have a vision for a better world and the humility to realize you need other people to make it happen.
When that vision is really clear, you’ll stop telling people to sleep at the office, you’ll throw all the money you can afford to at the people who helped you get there, and you’ll use any and all of your power, privilege and influence to tear down the walls that keep others out, rather than protecting your position at the top.