This summer I’m taking a class on Church History and we’ve been discussing ideologies – the ideas and ideals that people believe and live by, whether they know it or not. I believe that one of the overarching ideologies of our time is consumerism. Marketers drive people to want more, to get more, to yearn for the latest product. People tend to move quickly toward getting what they want. This ideology taps into the overpowering self-interest that rules our hearts. Not much is ever said about having enough.
It’s also fascinating to me to see the hero worship that goes towards business and tech leaders. Steve Jobs has been the subject of various books and movies due to his technical genius. But his personal life was a shambles and he was a jerk to work around. Reading his biography makes you shake your head that anyone could stand him. One of our leading presidential candidates is a businessman with no statesmanlike qualities at all, but it’s believed by his supporters that his business expertise will translate directly into leading the most powerful nation-state in history, this despite few previous successful examples.
In the past, clergy or generals or academics or explorers were considered wise leaders worthy of emulation. Today it’s people who can make money, be they business people or athletes or entertainers. This seems to me to be one of the dominant and troubling ideologies of our day. Is the ability to generate wealth the most important criteria we have for leaders? If consumerism and the desire for more money and stuff is at the heart of our society’s dominant worldview, then those are the kind of leaders we’ll seek out and those are the type of leaders we’ll get. But, in the end, are those the types of leaders we really want?