I’m feeling especially misanthropic today, so I’m going to write about something that has been on my mind for a while but that I haven’t had the guts to talk about yet: there are basically only 3 types of people – leaders, followers and philosophers (plus a few hybrids); but that is pretty much it.
Coming up with classifications like this always reeks of elitism, or something worse (me being German, I want to be especially careful not to give off the wrong impression…). But just because there are some very problematic historical connotations, that doesn’t automatically prove the original idea wrong.
Hegel’s dialectics of master and slave
Speaking of original: being quite the follower myself, I of course stole the idea… Hegel famously claimed that humanity necessarily splits up in two antagonistic tendencies, i.e. masters vs. servants. He tells the story like this: By accident, two self-conscious beings meet each other for the first time and are forced to realize that they are not the center of the universe – there are other self-conscious beings just like them. Naturally, they cannot stand that idea and start smashing each other’s heads in. As these things tend to play out, the stronger one will prevail and the weaker one will submit to save his life – and so the dichotomy of master and servant is born.
How does all this philosophical gibberish relate to personal development?
My point is: the thought that we’re are NOT all the same might seem elitist and outdated to us today – but for a very long time, some very smart people were saying exactly that. The idea is probably as old as philosophy itself; just think Plato and his allegory of the cave.
Yet for us post-modern, progressive do-gooders, the concept of disparity doesn’t sit well. We want to believe we are all equally precious human beings, committed to love, trying to make the world a better place…
Maybe we have taken political correctness a little bit too far.
It’s actually rather hard to keep believing in the good of mankind. And I’m not even talking genocide here – just look at what’s on TV; that type of entertainment, optimized to appeal to our base instincts, truly represents the taste of the masses. Or better yet, read some YouTube comments. What people have to say when they can hide behind the anonymity of an online persona should really convince you that most of us haven’t evolved much past our days of sitting in trees (no offense to the apes).
This is no reason to despair though. Rather, looking at the categories of follower, leader and philosopher is about seeing the world for what it is and understanding where you want to fit in. It’s about making a conscious choice which of these roles you want to take on. And choice is the basis for true personal development.
Option No.1: Being a follower
This is the category that 95% of us fall into. The beliefs of the follower or the herd person can be summed up like this:
- The follower is constantly resentful, even scared, of other people who don’t belong to his subset of the herd (i.e. his culture, religion or peer group)
- The follower is worried about resources and not getting his “fair” share of them (attention, approval, money, sex, etc.)
- The follower is usually a hoarder, not a creator (both of knowledge and material goods)
- The follower’s ultimate point of reference is what the majority of the herd considers to be “right” (=what most people agree on)
- The general mindset of the follower is highly universal. It can be utilized for about any cause: Left or right, conservative or progressive, black or white, man or woman – the herd mindset works for ALL of these. Ideas are completely interchangeable: as long as there is a big enough group that the follower can associate with, he can pick up on the general consensus and behave like a sheep
- As much as the follower hates anyone deviating from the norm, he needs nothing as much as an enemy. Iran needs the evil USA, the USA need the axis of evil; (some) feminists need the evil patriarchy, bros need bitches to hate on and OMG do American Christians need those wicked atheists…
Option No.2: Being a leader
There is the huge herd, but there are also the outliers: the rare breed of person who will see through the mindlessness of the masses and, combined with utter ruthlessness, will use that knowledge to take control of the herd. One of the most notorious historical examples would be Napoleon (whom Hegel himself already had a man-crush on), but there are many more: Caesar, Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan; someone like Vladimir Putin would be a more current example. All these leaders make effective use of the following axioms:
- A true leader realizes that most people are essentially the same – mindless pieces on a playing board, waiting to be moved
- The leader understands that this fact is nothing to get mad about but instead something to be worked with; he is the sculptor who forms the clay
- The leader admits to himself that he is of higher value to the herd than its average member, since he alone can give the herd direction and purpose
- It’s imperative that the leader must not care about the individual; not necessarily because he is cruel, but simply because the individual doesn’t have the capacity for significant societal change (unless the individual is a leader himself)
- On the other hand, the leader is highly aware of the power of the masses; not surprisingly, most leaders believe in numbers and statistics
- The mindset of the leader lets him recognize that if a few have to be sacrificed to ensure the greater good, it is harsh but completely justified to do so
- Where the follower tends to hoard, the leader creates
- Where the follower blames his circumstances, the leader changes his circumstances
Option No.3: Being a philosopher
The kicker with Hegel’s original distinction of master and slave is that there is an implicit third category, which is represented by himself: the philosopher. The philosopher completely sees through the symbiotic relationship between leader and followers; but in order to do so, he himself has to stay out of the struggle, so he can observe where others get entangled.
The belief system of the philosopher goes as follows:
- Just like the leader, the philosopher realizes that the absolute majority of people do not think for themselves
- Where the leader turns towards influencing the herd though, the philosopher takes a step back, and analyzes what he observes; that goes for both the herd and the leader
- Only a very few people, for example the philosopher himself, can see how both the herd and the leader operate and what drives them; where the leader wants tangible power, the philosopher wants to feel special about himself
- There are only 4 basic assessments of the masses and their leaders which philosophers might come up with:
- 1) The herd is a repulsive conglomerate of people, hardly better than animals (Nietzsche, Ortega y Gasset, Canetti)
- 2) While the herd has to be taken for what it is, there is no use in complaining about it, only in understanding it better (Hegel, Spengler)
- 3) Leaders are the devil incarnate: manipulating the herd by appealing to its base instincts (greed, jealousy, fear), megalomaniac and highly dangerous (Bakunin, Ortega y Gasset, Canetti)
- 4) Leaders are the only humans that deserve the title, exactly because they are constantly trying to impose their reality on others (Hegel, Nietzsche, Spengler)
Okay, those are your three basic archetypes. There are three more hybrid forms that can be deduced from the original archetypes and are just as complex. I’m only going to hint at them though:
The follower-leader: Someone who will lead smaller groups of people, but doesn’t want to take on too much responsibility; in the corporate world, the follower-leader can often be found in middle management positions or even running a small brick-and-mortar business. In a military context, the follower-leader is your typical sergeant.
The leader-philosopher: The leader-philosopher realizes he cannot be part of the herd, as he is too far gone. Instead he opts for becoming a herd of one, led by himself. Unlike the full blown-out philosopher, he does engage with reality: he is usually some kind of artist or creator, with minimum obligations to others. Consequently, he shies away from larger systems and hierarchies, to retain as much independence as possible.
The philosopher-follower: There is a small set of followers who are somewhat self-conscious and aware of the herd dynamics they are part of. They know what’s going on, which elevates them above the normal herd member. At the same time, they are not quite able to resist the social pressure of the herd. So in contrast to the pure philosopher, the philosopher-follower is not able to step back from the herd, but is moved along with its strong current.
To reiterate: personal development can only happen if you know where you stand. If you’ve never really thought about these categories before, it’s time that you did.
And even if you are already aware of these basic human tendencies, still beware: You might not be the archetype you think you are. And if you are wrong, the consequences might be catastrophic. A classic example from literature would be Dostoyevsky’s Raskolnikov in “Crime and Punishment“, who starts out thinking he is a leader (repeatedly praising Napoleon as a ruthless go-getter), but who in reality is the ultimate philosopher. Because of that internal mix up, he tricks himself into committing murder and only later realizes that he is a removed philosopher, not an acting leader. Consequently, he is sent to Siberia.
Another interesting variation of this type of self-deception is what I call the “hipster phenomenon:” followers who choose a certain subgroup with very specific rules (in regards to style, behavior, political beliefs, gender beliefs, ways of eating, etc.). Because of this affiliation, the hipster-follower successfully tricks himself into thinking he is now either a philosopher or a leader-philosopher. This is self-delusion at work: switching herds doesn’t turn the sheep into a lone wolf.
On a final note, I want to make one thing really clear: these categories are not an excuse for hating on stupid people. I’m not even sure that intelligence has much to with it. There are some really smart followers out there and there are also some extremely primitive leaders. So looking down on someone or some group is not the point.
The point is that people CAN move between groups; it’s rare, but it happens. If I didn’t believe so, I wouldn’t write a blog about personal development.
So yes, for 95% of people, i.e. the followers of this world, personal development is NOT happening (and that is especially true for most people reading personal development materials).But at any point in time can you decide to acknowledge your situation and start moving towards a more self-determined life. No one and nothing is holding you back.
But also realize that whatever other category you choose to adapt for your future life, comes with its specific sets of disadvantages: the leader loses much of his humanity. The philosopher loses touch with everyday life and people. The follower-leader will never progress past a certain point. The leader-philosopher is lonely. The philosopher-follower never lives what he knows.
No-nonsense personal development is as much choosing your disadvantages in life as it is choosing the lifestyle you want for yourself.
Thank god this article is done…
Until next time.