There is a short list of terms that have entered the vernacular, in the tech world and a fortiori in the startup world, which I detest. I can think of no better term to express my emotion at these terms, for I consider them beneath contempt and an assault on dignity. One, as I have mentioned, is “human capital” - a term so offensive I can’t even.
Another, however, is the term “thought leader” - a term I hate for reasons practical, political, and philosophical. And those reasons are not easily divided.
For one, the term “thought leader” is much like the Satrean on Levinasian Other: it contains what it cannot possibly contain. Moreover, it has all the properties of Baudrillard’s simulacrum, and this is the pity.
Coming from an anarchist (properly, anarcho-syndicalist or anarchist-communist) political background, I am a great believe in the leadership of ideas rather than hte leadership of men (or humans of any gender identity). Thus, the idea of “thought leadership” is prima facie appealing, until we recognize it for what it is: it is the crowning of individuals who are - and let’s not deceive ourselves - experts in their areas - as demagogues. The leadership of ideas is one thing - the anointing of demagogues is quite another; in fact, precisely what the notion of the leadership of ideas intended to eradicate.
And this brings me to Baudrillard and the notion of simulation and simulacra: Baudrillard defines the simulacrum as the lie that has absorbed all of the energy of the truth.
Well, he defines it many times in many places; it’s tough to nail down. Rather like Lacan’s objet petit a in this regard… whatever you can say it is, it’s not that.
But this isn’t a psychoanalytic seminar, so let’s leave that in parentheses for the moment.
The concept of a “thought leader” - what we just once called an “expert” - is a lie of demagoguery that has absorbed all the truth of the “leadership of ideas”. It is the modern method of making gods out of men, sapping our humility and our subservience to the ideas that should indeed lead us.
Like a vampire in the Gothic tales, the idea of the “thought leader” has sucked dry our belief in ideas and placed our faith back in men. This we cannot allow. The only thing to do with a “thought leader” is kill it.
I make a lot of jokes about “thought leader” is the title you get when you have no actual marketable skills, but there is no joking here.
Much like Carthage… “thought leadership” delenda est.