We had a talk from a Jesuit priest in school today. He seemed like a guy who had led an interesting life, working in India etc, and engaged in a bit of banker bashing, which is always fun. There was one thing he said that irked me, however. He talked about leadership, classifying leadership into three different ‘forces’ by virtue of the goal or product of that form of leadership:
Politics … Power
Economics/Banking … Wealth
Religion … Redemption
I accept that political leadership tends to be motivated by the desire for power - not always a bad thing, Martin Luther King wanted the power to change the status of black people in America, even most career-politicians want power in order to achieve their aims, whether they be conservative, or social-democratic. Power for its own sake, or power such that history remembers you is, I think, a very special kind of motivation, which drives only very special leaders, such as Napoleon. Although even Tony Blair seemed to want power in order to build himself a legacy.
Whether bankers are wholly motivated by greed, I don’t know. Leaders in the world of finance, I suggest, get so rich that they reach the stage that wealth itself is not a force, merely the praise and reputation gained by accruing wealth. Its easy to bash money-makers but I guess many economists really do want to improve the lot of the poor. I mean if they just wanted personal wealth these economists wouldnt work for NGOs would they? Its easy for a Jesuit to chastize people for valuing the material but for much of the devoloping world, including where the order operates, prosperity means improving economic conditions. Fr Colin in Equador for instance has dealt with the material welfare of his parish because, for 40,000 dirtpoor shanty-dwellers, that is the most important thing!
The obvious thing to say is that many religious leaders are not driven by redemption or a desire to help but by base human desires. We all know this so I’m not gonna dwell on it. Moral leadership as undoubtedly shown by the likes of Jesus or the Buddha is also shown by, say, a civil rights leader like Martin Luther King. Even the rascal Tony Blair saw himself as being driven by a desire to better the world, morally not just materially, as do many social conservatives in the current government. Finally, moral leadership can be part-and-parcel of business too - in philanthropy, if we don’t take too cynical a view.
The point I’m trying to make is that the priests’ three-point schema for leadership was dreadfully oversimpified. In my opinion, leaders of politicis, economics and religion are all of the same ilk - leaders of conviction and rhetoric. I propose we see leadership as being of two kinds:
Politics, Economic, Religion, etc: lead you
Science: lead you to truth
In my opinion politics, economics and religion produce leaders who lead you because they want you to follow them - these spheres of life are a mechanism for producing leaders. What they lead you too is their goal, whether it be power, wealth, redemption, even death. They require leaders in order to move, not progress, just move. The cult of the leader blinds us to the veracity of the leader’s claims, we take them on authority. There is no real mechanism for checking the leadership of the leader. This does not mean that they are wrong or evil, merely false - Gandhi was of the opinion India deserved independence, his was value judgement, which he persuaded others to believe. Value-judgements are false in the sense of being unchecked … historical processes like politics or economics only happen once: we cannot rerun the experiment to see what would have happened had Gandhi not been a peace activist, history provides no controls. History is dependent on how it is led - the leaders cannot thus then use their own unfolding history (future) to turn their value-judgements into truths. The curious circularity of this form of leadership is what leaves it false.
Conversely, science progresses, improves, is led forward, but is not itself led by anything. Pioneers certainly lead the way, open up new areas of inquiry, say when Crick and Watson discovered the genetic code. But the story of molecular genetics has not been one of following Crick and Watson but of overtaking and going beyond them. When a scientific discovery is made, when someone leads their field, other scientists do not wait in an orderly queue behind them waiting to see what happens next - instead they jump ahead and start exploring the world opened up by the discovery. What is leading them to do this? Their own curiosity. But curiosity alone does not lead the progress of science - what leads the prohress of science is science itself. Science as a process - hypothesis-generation, experimental testing, data analysis, peer review - functions as a kind of blind algorithm to progress. Through the curious scientists, science is furthered as a whole body of knowledge, moving forward with each cycle of the algorithm. So while politics, economics and history are led by falsehood, science itself leads forward into truth. Science is always eating away at mystery to gain truth and constantly attacking istelf with the algorithm to make sure it is truth. The kind of leadership which suffuses politics, economics and religion is a barrier to this process as it usurps it for its own goals, masking truth with opinion, ideology and value-judgement - we see how empirically-testable models of economics become justification for the rule of various leaders. When the models fell apart as in 2008 rather than face the algorithm many of the leaders used their influence to hide the truth. But the court of public opinion which, of all things fuels leaders, turned against them, revealing the one truth-seeking method of politics, economics and religion - a leader’s success or failure.
We see then how what leads science forward is the fact it is leaderless. I believe that politics, economics and religion are the enemies of science:
politics, economics, religion etc: led by lies
science: leads to truth
Leaders ply falsehood, do science - question them!