Leadership and Nihilism
As a nihilist, I'm often confronted with different reactions and questions from people - some of which are understandable, while others are more or less a waste of time. One of the reoccurring questions goes like this: "I understand the logical process behind nihilism, but what about pragmatic changes? How do you apply nihilism to your daily life?" This is a question that can be answered in a multitude of ways, and while all nihilists eventually reach common ground to stand on, their use of this amoral weapon, becomes more like a routine - a thinking process - than a mere suggestion, such as "we simply need to stop moralizing". In this article I wish to present one way of using this nihilistic thinking process in order to more clearly analyze a subject, work out a sensible solution, and devalue its basis of action.
In any group where a collective of human beings are working together under certain circumstances, the question of leadership eventually becomes a topic of relevance. While we today have been taught that all people can make important decisions, that leadership is strictly a learned skill, and that authoritative forms of leadership are negative in general - as they are seen connected with previous regimes under fascist, communist and national socialist states - the reality is much different. You need only to collect 30 students from a school and instruct them to build a raft, inform your co-workers of a newly arisen dilemma that they need to take care of right away, or sit in a meeting and try to form consensus between parties of different opinions, to realize the actual need for strong and decisive leadership.
Without someone to collect resources, keep notes of every detail of importance, form a common goal for people to work toward, or delegate tasks and make sure that the goal is reached, a group will often relapse into the predictable form of mob rule that we today witness in democratic nations. First of all, to arrange and form a group of individuals who are supposed to work together, a clear goal needs to be made, and its relevance to the group as a whole needs to be established. Without someone establishing themselves as a leader, things will instantly fall apart, because before you know it, people have relapsed into their invert state of passivity and excuses. Comments may sound like this: "I don't feel like doing that, so I won't", "What do I benefit from this?", "I like the idea, but I don't want to work with him/her, so forget it" or "Not all of us think this is a good idea, so why should we do it at all?"
Quickly, the group has dismantled into private islands where selfishness comes before the actual task or idea at hand, even if it in the end may benefit the whole of the group. Here, the role of the leader, is to (a) state what has to be done and why, (b) form consensus and force the dissidents/individualists to follow, and (c) begin delegating tasks, based on a variety of characteristics (intelligence, moral character, state of physical/mental strength and health etc.).
In a democratic group, consensus would be formed from the basis of the majority, which could mean that the idea itself would be voted against, even if it is above the understanding of the collective. Most often, the consideration of an idea from an individualistic (democratic) point of view is a selfish one - "what will I gain from this?” – which will likely turn down any holistic ideas and instead vote for things that reward immediate self-gratification. This is why most groups today in our society are masters at working out complex solutions that are supposed to "benefit us all", but in the end only benefit those who already have an established basis of economic or political power. All democratic politicians want more of that lovely multiculturalism, but personally they prefer living in homogenous neighbourhoods where no ethnic conflicts, insane "equality laws", or violent gang groups, may hurt them. In a democratic group, a false image of collectivism arises, but the opposite is often closer to the truth; someone knows it's profitable, and thus creates a social scenario for it to play out. It's not conspiracy thinking, it's basic human selfishness.
Either way, without someone to manage resources and pointing people in the right direction, most things will end up insufficient for the task or idea at hand. As a leader of a small group (the larger it becomes, the more power has to be decentralized out to other leaders, as a single vulnerable point is like a house of cards: remove the basic foundation to decision making and power, and everything quickly falls apart), it is of utmost importance, to keep track of which individuals you are working with - what their strengths and weaknesses are, and who's fit for what. Naturally, from a meritocratic perspective, it makes perfect sense to base these analyzations on physical as well as mental traits, including obvious things like current knowledge, willingness to co-operate, social behaviour, self-sacrifice and experience.
Again, in democratic groups, this quickly relapses into banal circles of thought; as every individual is seen equally capable of performing any generic task, it becomes a matter of personal desire versus the direction of the majority. Typically, a new set of votes would have to be made in order to create a form of self-automated delegation of tasks. It would not be a question of whether "he or she is capable of doing that", but a personal right, to be able to work with anything and anyone.
Of course, this is an illusion. Before you know it, you'll have individuals longing to work in positions that do not require much effort, most of which will include bureaucratic functions. The tasks that require hard work and dedication, co-operation and consensus - e.g., all of those positions that would typically be taken by idealists - are hoped to be filled by the remaining portion of people that, according to the voting system, did not have the opportunity to reach the more individualist-centred positions (these often include office tasks such as answering emails, finding information on the Internet or editing generic HTML pages) which fill a function that most individuals would be able to handle, with or without any noticeable degree of experience or basic knowledge. As such, the democratic group will eventually have to push forward one or two individuals who naturally have a strong sense of authority, in order to force dissidents to perform unwanted/unpopular tasks, or even gather together into a collective, to assert the power of the majority principle. Already, this group has relapsed into a fragmented group of people where the task and idea itself is forgotten, replaced by "what I feel like doing". The failure often does not become publicly evident until the result is revealed: mediocrity at best.
Contrary to popular belief, leadership is not mainly about one-time decision making. Leadership is a process, which means that it - like nature - is never ending. You never "stop" to become a leader, but always remain as a firm individual for people to contact when they need help with new things. After having given out tasks to people, one of the most important parts of a project becomes necessary: to inspire and help individuals to stay on task, and, as much as possible, minimize the negative things that will eventually transpire within a larger group of individuals. There is a multitude of ways of doing this, and there certainly is no "right" or "wrong", especially considering that idea, situation and resource are three variables.
Within democratic circles, this key aspect of becoming a competent leader is often totally left out. Most people have the image of leaders, as people who make important decisions then somehow become "finished" and dedicate their time and energy on other things, like "discussing", "travelling" or "waiting until new decisions have to be made". While discussions with other leaders can have positive weight, people forget the obvious: a project is a process, and not some kind of static, one-time situation where everything is run mechanically and self-automated. While this may be true for machines, human beings tend to flake out more than our computers and printers do. This is very easy to portray: walk into a school class, tell them to work together, to present a dynamic picture of a historical person of choice, and to be finished within a week's time. Most people would probably be amazed at the result; some students would immediately receive a headache after two hours of typing, some perhaps would have problems at home, which would affect their work. Others would have problems finding quality texts and give up too early, others would start surfing on entertainment websites or start playing computer games. To put it simply, in most cases there wouldn't even be a person to present the next week, and if there would, then the presentation would be far from the expectations you might have had.
A leader needs to maintain correspondence with his workers and co-workers regularly. And, unlike what most people seem to think, it's not about "forcing" people to do this or that (even if this is an inevitable part of idealism; we can't all agree on a common goal, but nonetheless, it is the goal itself that matters and not trying to find an utopian consensus that's never going to occur anyway) - it's about pushing them forward dynamically. Some might have emotional/personal problems - "my wife is very sick, I must attend her" - this individual might have been an honest and reliable worker for many years, and if so, it is your duty as a leader to respect his problems and find a replacement as quickly as possible - in worst case, taking on his work yourself, if you can. Thus, we quickly transcend the often ludicrous ideas of leadership as “egotistical and self-important"; leadership is the ultimate opposite to the kind of egoism and self-destructive "pride", that seems to inflict almost all democratic groups; the leader is willing to sacrifice his energy, time, and in extreme cases even himself, if it means reaching closer to a set out goal.
This is why it's so important to keep close contact with the people you work with and expect regular progress; sooner or later, they'll have ideas, opinions or questions, or simply need some inspiration, guidance or help. You are there to provide them with that. If you don't, there's a big chance that not only will the quality of the work degrade, but that it will take far longer to complete. And in the worst case you'll experience a noticeable number of individuals that have simply abandoned their task for various reasons: "It became boring", "I want to do something else", "I found no content to work with" etc. This is the hardest part of being a good leader; to both delegate and motivate individuals. While the first requires brain, the second requires much more, including social and emotional understanding of how people work. A leader who knows whom to place under programming software that cannot motivate or guide anyone - cannot point people in the right direction, and is thus ultimately a failure as leader.
It is therefore also here that most democratic groups relapse into chaos or anarchy. Eventually, when individuals are working toward what they perceive as selfish goals for their own gratification, they quickly lose their focus on the world around them. Suddenly, it doesn't matter if someone else in the group screwed up or started to smash his fist into the computer monitor; "it's not my problem, and I'm already done anyway, so why care?" It will now be nearly impossible to form a cohesive collaboration between individuals, as they've all started working for their own benefit instead of keeping focus on the idea or the task; they will only see the fragments - their part - of the whole task.
This stems from the lack of basic consensus; in democratic groups, there's nothing unifying to work towards, except through dogmatic means, upholding the already established systems of mob rule and majority principles. After a short period of time, a large number of individuals have lost sight of the task at hand: entertainment, socialisation or escapism. As individuals in democratic groups are not being given tasks according to ability, but social conditions like money, feelings or personal desires, the lack of competence eventually peaks, and the system itself falls apart and becomes completely replaced by individual desires. Individuals whose will to do something besides work is stronger than their actual contribution to the task at hand will not be easy to inspire or guide, as their work is based entirely on individual preference. Replacing their positions will be even more of a dead struggle. Imagine explaining to a carpenter why he needs to start painting rooms: "the painter didn't want to paint anymore, so you'll have to do it" - "me? I can't paint, I don't want to paint, and therefore, I'm not going to."
The situation presented above leads us to the beginning of this article: where does nihilism fit into the picture? How can we make use of it, in terms of pragmatic means? What ultimately makes democratic groups - or any group that places moral or ethic before the concerns of the idea or task - so ineffective in ways of managing leadership (here, in the sense of collective irresponsibility), is the lack of a larger vision. The narrowed down view of the situation eventually becomes an egoistic and individualist one, because the holistic sense of what must be done becomes intertwined with the moral guidance behind the project; in other words, it's not "we must do this, or else something in society will fail", but "we must do this, because it's popular/it'll gain voters/it'll make us rich/it'll grant us further power".
A leader, a true leader, uses the process of nihilism to successfully achieve his goals. Firstly, he announces the project - not as something that will appeal to individual preference (even if this often is true with holistic goals of a positive nature) - but as a way of, alongside other people, accomplishing an ideal/idea or task. He'll inform those who relapse into the individualist role that this objective may not provide any immediate self-gratification, indeed, may not even benefit the individuals involved in the project at all - but will benefit the community/society/nation/planet/etc. as a whole. This means forcing dissidents to co-operate, and to accept that not all members of the group can be satisfied. Secondly, he sees his resources from a realist’s point of view; not all individuals are of the same ability, therefore, it does not make sense to force them into positions they cannot handle properly - even if this will hurt or offend some individuals. This also means not, as many people think, placing the leader "above" his workers; he's simply another form of specialized labour, just as a carpenter or painter is.
Democratic groups often balance on crowd revolt ("we won't do anything, and you can't stop us") and utilitarianism ("but a 1/3 of the group does not agree, therefore, we can't/won't do it"). An individualist is only motivated by selfish motives, which makes him very unreliable by nature. At the same time, while democratic groups live in the illusion that they must never offend, a smart leader uses nihilism to address this as an unnecessary social construct, based mostly on people's fear of becoming victims of such inequality themselves. Thirdly, a leader needs to look beyond simple terms of "moral right" and "emotional wrong" -- there needs to be a consistent understanding of practical issues, and not simply a way of creating justifications for escaping duty. This goes both for the leader and his workers.
Most people today see themselves as leaders, which they are not. Even though you can train and become a better leader, just as a carpenter can learn to paint - in the end, it's not about who "can do" things, but who can do them best. People today who claim to be leaders are often self-assertive people in the narrow sense; they are insecure inside, and therefore, in different ways and forms, need to exert their ego-pleasing tendencies through means of abusing power (bullies, "popular people", democratic politicians). Most of them would not dare to take action if something would actually require fast learning, tactics, intelligence and patience, whereas some would make it, but far from as expected.
When our time has run out, the supposed "equality", has led to the ultimate form of inequality; people are put into places assuming that a generalized and static form of how an individual thinks, acts or works, will replace all individual differences in natural abilities. Leadership is, and will always remain, a duty for the very few of our population, and for those who think otherwise are either misinformed or deluded. We live in such times, so it should not surprise most of you.
To begin where I started, I hope you have realized some of the actual potential in nihilism, and how this thinking process of removing social and moral constructs, in order to perceive reality as “objectively" as possible, may become very crucial in certain situations. To a nihilist, this thinking process happens daily, whether he chooses to buy a magazine, cook food, have children or save a friend in war. Nihilism means seeing, recognizing, the potential in people - and in all of life - to achieve the best possible solution at hand. When you need to focus on what's important, leave the ego behind, step out of it, and see what the world has to offer you. Consult with reality. Nihilism offers a key to the endless possibilities lying before you - embrace it, and use it well.
August 27, 2006
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