- The Life or The Work? Meritocracy Versus The Cult of Personality in our Age of Post-Humanism’
Cyrus Manasseh 2019, 2020
Meritocracy Versus the Cult of Personality
In this paper I would like to ask what do all of these great people all have in common? Plato, Einstein, Alberti, Winckelmann, Gutenberg, Schopenhauer, Shakespeare, Aristotle, Darwin, Marx, Einstein, Columbus, Newton, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Leonardo da Vinci, Dickens, Edison, Nietzsche, Freud, Johann Sebastian Bach, Galileo Galilei, George Elliot, Immanuel Kant, Tchaikovsky, Voltaire, Socrates, Copernicus, Michelangelo, Goethe, Descartes, Nikola Tesla, Dante and Locke.
If you don’t know, I will tell you: their work is what matters (and has always been more significant) for the human race. Not how they lived their life. In fact, in our present post-humanist situation, so much has slipped away from making our lives great. Perhaps one of the most disturbing reasons may be that now even the idea and belief of the talented artist or inventor as hero without an incessant preoccupation with how they lived, who they slept with etc., has lost its full appeal. No doubt the lives of those who created great works can be seen as something quite interesting and important, but in fact, with our current continuous obsession with the cult of personality and the idea of the new-age sensitive man, which had been introduced into our culture and had hit us in the 90s, the focus from us believing first in the work, artist or inventor’s heroism related solely to its quality and value of the person’s creative and imaginative output has instead unfortunately become subjugated to our detriment.
Instead, nowadays in the twenty-first century, instead of the artist or inventor as hero being solely associated and related to the work, we are faced with an entirely different focus altogether, namely: the pathetic concern with always putting the life of the person above the importance of the person’s work whether it be the artist or inventor or writer. In addition, we must also be aware that this is not the only contortion of the intelligence of the past. In fact, not only does this continue today, but it is extended to the judgement of the quality of a person’s life to fit and be satisfactory in accordance with the progressive standards of collectivist identity groups, which has been particularly disastrous.
Previously, in a tremendous amount of Anglo-Saxon culture, before the start of post-humanist postmodern times – prior to the 90s that is, so much had allowed for reason and a rationalist argument where the proof had been in the pudding. Prior to the 90s, one could see the quality of the work and could worship the artist or inventor, or invention solely based on the evidence of their output. For example, seeing the great works of Michelangelo is surely enough to tell us how great the person was, perhaps even more so than if we were to study the life, which surely must be rendered in second place and it is enough to tell us of the artist or inventor’s greatness first and foremost.
Yet unfortunately, with magazines trying to make money, the cult of personality now seems to be even more important than celebrating the genius within the person. In fact, the example of the great works and masterpieces by the masters of antiquity (until the advent of too much critical theory, which from 60s), began swallowing everything up, had always helped to set the benchmark for high achievement and the setting of our standards through their ‘measurable’ achievements. However, in the age of advertising, there has been a focus, which has all too often increasingly become too often solely based upon or focused on the idea of whether those that create or produce great work are good, kind, gentle and sensitive beings in preference to the importance, power and significance of the work they produce. This was even though our sensible admiration, had always come from the value of the artist or inventor’s ideas and the quality of their productiveness. Always, they had always proved and been able to prove their heroic greatness though their work and not only through their lives.
Of course, life itself and lives had always been important – just think of Giorgio Vasari’s ‘Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects’ published in 1550, although it is known to be filled with inaccuracies, (Britannica 2020) the book does indeed focus on their lives but was seen as accompaniment to our understanding of the artist’s works. In fact, such biographical accounts could never exist as a sole influence to determine the artist or inventor’s true worth for us in society. Instead, the masters who needed a path of greatness to follow for creating new work needed only the work as the example for this. Of course, both the focus of the importance of the work as well as the life were always accepted and both can be important in helping to inform each other, but just think of Nietzsche or Mozart, is it necessary for us to recognise, or know the way they had lived their lives or for them to have lived great lives for us to know if they were great people? Is it possible to say that listening to their music and reading their writings is insufficient? Perhaps we should also see if it matters if Plato or Aristotle had both lived great lives compared with how great their works are without also forgetting just how much they had always greatly influenced many in western civilization until the 90s when their influence was pushed out by postmodernism. (Manasseh 2015, 2020)
After not really knowing the answer to these things and in thinking about all of these questions, perhaps we must now ask again whether these people’s works or their lives are more important?
The Need for a Meritocracy Again
In our present postmodern universe of uncertainty about everything, perhaps much of the confusion for not knowing the immediate answer is because the idea of meritocracy and the measuring of our standards as individualistic individuals is now no longer part of our lives in our post-humanist age?
But what is meritocracy exactly? And why do we need it now?
In fact, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary points out that a meritocracy is “leadership selected on the basis of intellectual criteria…and a system in which the talented are chosen and moved ahead on the basis of their achievement.” (Merriam-Webster 2020) This means that having a society based upon a meritocracy means having a society which relates to the idea of having those who show evidence of great achievement awarded with high status in contrast with those who do not. Yet, perhaps doesn’t all of this seem right? Isn’t this actually logical?
Moreover, it is also fundamentally important to recognise that a basic outcome and confirmation of meritocracy had always been a system of hierarchy, which had been part of natural selection and nature from the beginning. The link between the two things had always been an important part of human life from antiquity. Jordan Peterson explains, that although in recent times it has been the contrary, hierarchy was never linked to a dominant male patriarchy o r various kinds of dictatorship or tyranny. As Peterson points out, “... you need the hierarchy. Social animals organise themselves hierarchically. Hierarchies are way older than capitalism, are way older than the west. They are older than trees. They are unbelievably ancient. There’s no getting rid of the hierarchy…Three hundred and fifty million years of hierarchies…The point is, you can’t attribute the existence to the west or to capitalism.” (OZ and Peterson)
The Cult of Personality and the Nineteenth Century Romantics
Perhaps a hint of the mania for the cult of personality had really started in the nineteenth century with the artist, inventors and musicians of the Romantic Movement? It was a humanistic freedom movement that had existed without a need for hierarchy like our present situation and though it belonged to a different time, perhaps in some ways, we may be able to acquire a bit of the flavour of what has now happened today in our post-humanist age if we look at this period. For example, the writer Coleridge with his opium and De Quincy perhaps along with Paganini and Liszt were the first postmodernists. In fact, with Lord Byron, things got out of hand until the cult of his personality became more important than the quality of his writings which were overshadowed by his character in society.
In fact, in the Romantic period (1800-1890 app.) writers like Shelley, Byron, Keats, Blake, Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Edgar Allan Poe, Thoreau and visual artists like Waterhouse, Rossetti and Burne-Jones and musicians like Paganini and Liszt to name a few seeking to be as free as possible had created and lived bohemian lives of colour, extravagance and excess. Yet, while we might perhaps in some ways, see this movement as being a little bit proto-typical for the progressive movement and perhaps a precursor to the postmodernism of the 90s, these people were all great artists.
Critical Theory from the 60 to the 90s
However, in the 60s, at the time of an increasing development of critical theory which would form and be created and grow, with a lot of new questioning along with the eradication of old systems, in some things rock musicians seemed to have latched on to the romantic strain inherent in the nineteenth century, which had seen the cult of personality develop and grow. Taking inspiration from the artistic dandies of this period like Byron and Paganini, music groups like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones sought to emulate various aspects of their artistic or inventor predecessors making personality and life more and more significant than it had previously been.
Yet, although this was true, groups like the Beatles and Stones who had strongly helped bring back us to a tribalism through their creation of identity groups were still valued for their work above all and can be seen as true artists because of this. In fact, as we all know, without the music they produced, what would have been the true greatness of the Beatles? Though existing in a sense as a half-way point in the middle of before the cult of personality would begin to overtake the quality of productive output in the 90s, following a progressive incentive from the 60s to topple authority perhaps because of a strong sense of frustration and angst against political figures and their various tyrannies, and perhaps because of perceived corruption in the church rulers, single figures as heroes diminished and diminished.
The 90s and Advertising (especially in the 90s)
In fact, especially in Anglo-Saxon countries during the 90s, at a time when the postmodern movement became more manifest (which saw identity focused collectivist groups of members of the same inclination believing in the dictum that you are either oppressor or the oppressed), (SFS York, 2017) the postmodernists focusing more on gender identities smashing the icons of the past, pushed out the idea of the individualistic individual, which began the downfall of the worship and belief in the individual heroes of the past based on meritocracy. As part of a desire to turn the tables in relation to gender, in the 90s, the representation of bodies, in the media, which would actively create and reinforce gender identity, would invent and make stronger our non-individualistic identity while intentionally leading us think we were more individualistic. Linked to identity and collectivist groups which make us tribal, the heritage of the great artists and creators of the past like Freud – see for example, Richard Webster’s 1995 book ‘Why Freud was Wrong’ were denounced and fitted to the will of these new minority groups which fitted them into their own construction of stereotypes manifested and reinforced greatly by media writing and advertising in the 90s.
Using image and language-semantics, this ludicrous idea strongly marketed through and helped by the press and through postmodernist agendas – following on from the critical theory from the 60s saw a momentum or certain political currents and agendas flow that helped discredit the great heroes of the past and any sign of heroism related to their abilities and (creative) output in general. (Manasseh 2015, 2020)
As a result, in a world of media advertising, which always continues to play an important part in our lives, the celebration of the individual as hero from the 90s became further dissolved. The self-identity and individualistic individualism that had been linked to original thinking, was no longer permitted in any way shape or form. Instead, more important was the identity group ideology related to boosting the importance of collectivist minority for those which were said to be underprivileged. Included in these organised groups of members of the same inclination were women. As a result, the engendering of our disengagement and belief in the importance of the heroes of the past was killed off - pushed aside and tossed out. Instead, the age did not even present men as anti-heroes as they had been in the film noir movies of the 50s and 60s and like John Travolta had already been in the 70s, instead they emasculated them and dissolved any possibility of hero status making them as opposite as possible, from what they had always been.
By contrast, somehow, unfortunately, in its place, in place of the idea of the hero was something that needed to relate to the idea of a nice sensitive guy, which was an idea chosen because it was marketable and classifiable as an identity group related to the idea of ‘the sweet and sensitive man’ in contrast to, and against the individualistic individualism based on the rationalist meritocracy of the past. This advertising and print media which seemed to work in unison, was part of a growing momentum gathered in the 90s which continues and still persists in the present.
In fact, advertisements have always, for a long long time, been especially focused on “the symbolic properties of bodies” pushing and inviting the public to become indoctrinated under their spell. Advertising works by manipulating through its creation and by the reinforcing of stereotypes which it strongly helps to invent, control, program and fix into our subconscious “discourse through and about objects” by giving us a way to act out and show our identity based on what we are able to purchase or choose to follow or appreciate. (Slater 1997, cited in Patterson and Elliott 2007, 232) In addition, the “representation of bodies”, in the media, would invent and make stronger our non-individualistic identity while making us think we are more individualistic. (Patterson and Elliott 2007, 232)
- Quote paper
- Professor PhD, Celta, BA Hons. Cyrus Manasseh (Author), 2019, The Life or the Work? Meritocracy versus the Cult of Personality in our Age of Post-Humanism, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/902831