There’s an interesting section in Žižek’s Like a Thief in Broad Daylight reflecting on the politics of crowds. Making a similar argument to the recent book by Will Davies, he argues that political crowds involve a rejection of representation. He argues on pg 71 that the presence of crowds seeking political change is literally a rejection of representation, orientared towards representatives:
Popular presence is precisely what the term says –presence as opposed to representation, pressure directed at representative organs of power; it is what defines populism in all its guises, and (as a rule, although not always) it has to rely on a charismatic leader. Examples abound: the crowd outside the Louisiana congress that supported the populist governor Huey Long and assured his victory in a key vote in 1932, crowds exerting pressure on behalf of Milošević in Serbia, crowds persisting for days in Tahrir Square during the Arab Spring demanding the overthrow of Mubarak, crowds in Istanbul during protests against Erdoğan, and so on. In a popular presence, ‘people themselves’ make palpable their force directly and beyond representation, but at the same time they become another mode of being.
As well as often relying on a charismatic leaders, crowds also depend on an organisational apparatus to facilitate and support their gathering, even in the case of apparently spontaneous uprisings. The experience of the crowd can lead this dependence to be disowned, as well as the element of representation involved in any crowd making popular demands. From pg 71-72:
One should never forget that the agent of popular pressure is always a minority –the number of active participants in the Occupy Wall Street movement of 2011 against global economic equality was much closer to 1 per cent than to the 99 per cent of its slogan.
Reflecting on Trotsky’s observation that people “cannot live for years in an uninterrupted state of high tension and intense activity”, Žižek suggests that there are inherent limits to the political presence of crowds and a need to plan for when life returns to normal. I take his point to be that crowds contain their own negation, representing even as they reject representation and creating the conditions for future representation through their own inherent limits. He frames this provocatively in terms of the necessarily alienating character of political life: a denial that the pure presence of the crowd can ever be sustained.
From Battle of the Titans loc 1846:
Anyone who has ever worked for Schmidt will tell you that he is one of the toughest, most competitive executives walking. Ask Rubin what it was like to be on the receiving end of a few “Don’t fuck it up” lectures from Schmidt. “Not fun,” Rubin says. But in public Schmidt comes across as anything but the ambitious, competitive Silicon Valley tycoon that he is. He looks and sounds like an economics professor. Dressed typically in khakis and either a sweater or a blazer and tie, he goes out of his way to make journalists feel comfortable in his presence. He often solicits follow-ups to make sure, as he often says, that he has answered your question “crisply.” He is one of the rare executives unafraid to answer questions head-on. His answers are filled with facts, data, and history. He always has an agenda, but he rarely appears evasive. Most CEOs avoid detailed discussions with journalists at all costs. They’d rather seem evasive than miss an opportunity to repeat a talking point. Schmidt prefers to overwhelm with facts and knowledge. He’s not afraid to talk about facts that don’t support his thesis. He just supplies other facts that do.
From Peter Thiel’s Less Than Zero loc 1912:
Apple’s value crucially depended on the singular vision of a particular person. This hints at the strange way in which the companies that create new technology often resemble feudal monarchies rather than organizations that are supposedly more “modern.” A unique founder can make authoritative decisions, inspire strong personal loyalty, and plan ahead for decades. Paradoxically, impersonal bureaucracies staffed by trained professionals can last longer than any lifetime, but they usually act with short time horizons.
An interesting extract from Steven Levy’s In The Plex about Google’s Associate Product Managers, a select group being groomed as future leaders. From page 3:
The APM program, I learned, was a highly valued initiative. To quote the pitch one of the participants made in 2006 to recent and upcoming college graduates: “We invest more into our APMs than any other company has ever invested into young employees…. We envision a world where everyone is awed by the fact that Google’s executives, the best CEOs in the Silicon Valley, and the most respected leaders of global non-profits all came through the Google APM program.” Eric Schmidt, Google’s CEO, told me, “One of these people will probably be our CEO one day—we just don’t know which one.” The eighteen APMs on the trip worked all over Google: in search, advertising, applications, and even stealth projects such as Google’s attempt to capture the rights to include magazines in its index. Mayer’s team, along with the APMs themselves, had designed the agenda of the trip.
The trip involved all manner of team-building exercises intended to “increase the participants’ understanding of a technology or business issue, or make them more (in the parlance of the company) ‘Googley'”. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this wasn’t a very diverse group. From page 4:
The most fascinating part of the trip was the time spent with the young Googlers. They were generally from elite colleges, with SAT scores approaching or achieving perfection. Carefully culled from thousands of people who would have killed for the job, their personalities and abilities were a reflection of Google’s own character. During a bus ride to the Great Wall of China, one of the APMs charted the group demographics and found that almost all had parents who were professionals and more than half had parents who taught at a university—which put them in the company of Google’s founders. They all grew up with the Internet and considered its principles to be as natural as the laws of gravity. They were among the brightest and most ambitious of a generation that was better equipped to handle the disruptive technology wave than their elders were. Their minds hummed like tuning forks in resonance with the company’s values of speed, flexibility, and a deep respect for data.
To what extent do these people come to see themselves as ‘future leaders’? What does this self-conception entail for how they conceive of the relationship between themselves and the world? I’m very interested in this discourse of ‘leadership’ having recently discovered the existence of ‘leadership camps’ to which ambitious American parents send their children.
I recently finished Race of a Lifetime, purchased because I confused it with this book that I’d actually intended to buy… it’s a great read in many respects. I love reading politics books like this because of the snippets of insight they can offer into the processes by which politicians are socialised (and socialise themselves) into leadership:
As McCain bumbled publicly, Obama was privately conducting for himself what amounted to an on-the-fly series of postgraduate seminars, holding lengthy conference calls night and day with his party’s brainiest economic savants. Many of the people to whom Obama turned were Clinton veterans: former treasury secretaries Bob Rubin and Larry Summers, former Council of Economic Advisers chief Laura Tyson. Obama also turned to Clinton himself, calling the former president several times, soliciting his advice, impressing him (for the first time, really) with his approach to the crisis. Obama was talking regularly with Fed chair Ben Bernanke and daily, sometimes more often, with Paulson. The treasury secretary was astonished by the candidate’s level of engagement. On one occasion, Obama kept his plane on the tarmac for a half hour after the final event of his day, with a long flight ahead of him, so he could finish a conversation with Paulson. On another, Obama called Paulson late at night at home and spent two hours discussing the intricate details of regulatory reform. As much as the substantiveness of the discussions struck Paulson, so did their sobriety and maturity. I’ll be there publicly for you at any time, Obama told him. I’m going to be president, and I don’t want to inherit a financial system that’s collapsed