Two friends of mine have recently written articles on the subject of famous leaders, or gurus. I would like to add my hearty agreement to their messages. In particular, I want to stress that clinging to gurus makes things worse, not better. Following a guru is a downward path, not an upward path.
Specialists: Healthy and Otherwise
There is a serious difference between appreciating someone’s work and hanging on their every word and joining yourself to their cause. The first is healthy; the second is not.
There are some of us who specialize in patching ideas together in new and useful ways. And let me tell you, it’s not easy work… and I think it’s important that the people who do such work should be paid for it.
That’s why, for example, I charge for my monthly newsletter – it’s a lot of work, and I have bills to pay like everyone else. (It’s also why I’ve paid other newsletter writers for their work, over many years.)
But even in my favorite case, where you all buy my monthly newsletter, I should not be your guru – I’m just a guy doing an unusual job. If I do my job well, I provide you with useful ideas, which will improve your mind and your life. That’s worthy of respect, but it is not something that anyone should blindly follow.
The things that I say (or that anyone says) should never be considered right just because we say them, but rather because they make sense, are supported by evidence, and so on.
My job is to provide you with good ideas. Your job is to recognize them and internalize them – to build them into yourself. Both sides of that equation are necessary.
The Subversion of the Gurus
The more guru-ish someone is, the more likely they are to go off the edge. For example, consider what the two articles I mentioned above have to say:
You see, the truth about Gurus is that they’re mere mortals. Which is to say they have good points to their personalities, and they have flaws. Unfortunately, the grander their Guru status, the most enhanced are their flaws.
Julia Tourianski, whose experience was in some ways worse, writes this:
The preachers, the activists, the writers, the videographers, the organizers, the youtubers; I’ve met you all, and many of you have shaken my assumption in the good of the human being. You do not believe in freedom, you believe in exploiting fringe thought for clicks and semi-internet-fame.
And, as such things tend to do, guru worship frequently ends with perverted gurus.
One of the stellar Gurus of the day was in the habit of sitting in his hotel room with a bottle of whiskey, drinking himself senseless and then calling for maid service. When the maid opened the door, she would find him parked naked in a chair facing the door, bottle in one hand and his manhood in the other. Since he was a noted VIP, the hotel would have the courtesy of calling me rather than the police, and I had the pleasure of admonishing him to cease.
And Julia notes:
Do not promote a female counterpart’s work in order to later guilt her into dating and/or sleeping with you.
Don’t use your fame to go on sexual rampages after your divorce while calling the women you sleep with “sluts” to your male colleagues.
Why the Gurus Keep Coming
We can expose one guru after another, but so long as people keep looking for them, a new guru will always follow the fallen guru.
The truth is this: It’s the fawning group members who make the guru. Without a willing crowd, the guru – no matter how much he or she craves fame – would be left standing alone.
Far too many people look for the easy way through life. And taking what the guru says as gospel saves them from the work of thinking and the responsibility of forming conclusions.
Added to this is the usual group problem: Being a member of a group gives you instant acceptance and instant self-esteem. It’s the same trick that keeps people emotionally chained to governments. By joining yourself to the larger and nobler entity, you save yourself the hard work of improving yourself.
It’s easy to forget about your problems when wrapped in a group.
Serious thinking is hard work, and improving yourself is hard work. It’s easier to pick up the gospel from the guru and join his parade. But that’s also fake, and it sidetracks you from bettering yourself for real.
The point here is that the guru model is degenerate. It bears bad fruit. We may have different jobs that we do, but that doesn’t place anyone on a pedestal.
Listen to the specialist, and if you think they’re doing their job well, respect them for it. But your role is not to idolize them, and definitely not to petition for membership in their crowd.
Your role is to internalize the good ideas they bring to you… and then to use them in the world.
Unless your interaction with a teacher ends with you improving and acting on your own, there is little point to the exercise.