I’ve been reading for years now – I fell in love as a child. Once home from school (not that I was there often), I’d want to read until sleep would break the book’s hold on me. And then I’d start the routine anew the next day.
Yet, after years of reading and writing, I’ve decided to embark on my own journey of adding a piece to the canon by crafting my own book centered around the intersection of philosophy and the world of business – applied philosophy in my view.
To reiterate, I have no professional background in either philosophy or business, but I feel this gives those like me insights from an outsider. I again doubt anything like this has been written: as the famous passage from The Lord of the Rings narrates:
Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate,
And though we pass them by today,
Tomorrow we may come this way
And take the hidden paths that run
Towards the Moon or to the Sun.
Some paths are worth deciphering and this is one of them.
This is the introduction – if there’s any direction you’d suggest for me to take, I am always open for debate.
I’ve often harbored the thought that Schrödinger would love the world we inhabit today. We simultaneously believe that the singularity will wipe out our jobs tomorrow while lamenting about the lack of visible progress in the world. In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche, through the mouthpiece that is Zarathustra, delivers:
“Everything goes, everything comes back; eternally rolls the wheel of being. Everything dies, everything blossoms again; eternally runs the year of being. Everything breaks, everything is joined anew; eternally the same House of Being is built.
Everything parts, everything greets every other thing again; eternally the ring of being remains faithful to itself. In every Now, being begins; round every Here rolls the sphere There. The center is everywhere. Bent is the path of eternity.”
Freud remarked that Nietzsche released “the words for much that remains mute in me” – the trademark of one who has definitively earned his place in the Western Canon. There’s a distinct recursive aspect to Nietzsche and the House of Being. What has happened before will necessarily happen again: we momentarily leave only to greet each other once more. That’s not to say this happens in our lifetimes – our actions or lack thereof will have stark consequences for the future in fields like energy consumption, immigration dynamics, and even space-travel. In that sense, it does not seem strange to think that many of our answers to our newly birthed questions can be found in the past.
This question is perhaps most poignant within the technology sector today. One of the lions in the venture capital animal kingdom, Andreessen Horowitz operates with the mindset that software is eating the world. Indeed it is, but the technology companies that dominate our world today control the software that they make. These quasi-monopolies that are possessed with an engorged appetite for the best products, people, and processes. have grown to dominate the world. Yet, they were all based off the indomitable philosophies of their founders. This is not just the case in the technology industry of course. One may wonder whether we have changed from the Gilded age era of the late 19th Century – we, as consumers, still cater to the whims of these titans whether by buying their goods nonchalantly or by justifying the abuse they heap on their employees for the sake of greatness. Instead of Rockefeller, Carnegie, or J.P. Morgan we call them Musk, Bezos, or Thiel.
The Pre-Socratic philosopher, Heraclitus, had a line passed down the ages that character is destiny. A nation’s character is upheld, day after day, from its leaders who carry their mantle to future generations. In today’s world, our leaders are more vividly seen from our CEO’s and business titans – the sweeping changes created today at companies like SpaceX to Google’s Calico will leave behind a glow that lights up the night sky of history. Nietzsche would have a lot to say about the populist movements occurring now in the western world and those a century ago – bent is the path of eternity. These companies had the blood, sweat, and tears of their founders who believed that frayed relationships and late nights were worth eternal business success.
Founder-led companies imbue their businesses with their chosen philosophy and this is the élan vital that attracts the cream of the crop. This is not to say that every change will be a remarkable boon to everyone: analysis acquired in post-Industrial Revolution England makes it crystal clear that there can be a substantial time lag between the advent of technological progress and its benefits filtered to the majority. However, whether we approve or try to fight it, companies and the founders who made them will morph the world perhaps into one of their choosing. As Justine Musk would say when asked about her ex-husband, Elon Musk:
“It’s Elon’s world, and the rest of us live in it.”
But, another man – a pioneer of the industry antithetical to Musk – was David Rockefeller Sr. who earns a gleaming title in history as a polarizing figure in business, which is putting in mildly. The Standard Oil octopus engulfed the world and the entirety of the United States for decades and even now has resulted in the Seven Sisters – the oil companies like Royal Dutch Shell. It’s from having a glimpse of his background and personality that I ask if can we draw parallels between the mindset of the man and that of Hegel with his Hegelian dialectics?
Although they are more than a century apart, did Musk and Rockefeller garner inspiration from any of the great minds of the Western Canon before them for the philosophies of their own corporations? These are the types of questions that will be given a deeper look. Can we get a glimpse of what the future of business will resemble by comprehending the past? Like any worthy philosophical inquiry, there is no beginning nor is there an end. Every question that parts us, is greeted again in another form as Nietzsche would remark. This is my stab at greeting those age-old questions in my contemporary way, sui generis.