Jeff Bezos’ purchase of the Washington Post has led to a flurry of articles about him, of which I liked these two. Clearly Bezos has a brilliant mind, supreme confidence, and intense drive. As I read some articles about Bezos I thought he had much in common with Steve Jobs. Both have drawn great praise and great criticism, with the praise coming for their revolutionary ideas, with much of the criticism coming from how they treat employees.
Regarding people with brilliant minds being in charge, medieval Moslem philosopher Ibn Khaldun wrote,
Benevolent government is rarely associated with a ruler whose mind is over-alert and intelligence over-developed. Benevolence is most commonly found in rulers who are easy-going or who behave as if they were. The worst defect of such a ruler is that he lays burdens on his subjects which are greater than they can bear; and he does this because his mental vision outranges theirs and his insight penetrates into the end of things as well their beginnings. . . . Divine Law prescribes in the case of rulers that excess of intelligence should be avoided. . . .because it produces oppression and bad government, and makes demands on people that are contrary to their nature.
Toynbee quotes Khaldun in volume four of his A Study of History in the context of looking at civilizations that begin to lose internal harmony. Decline in civilizations begins for Toynbee when society reveals various forms of spiritual schisms that misalign their focus. The lopsided nature of a mere intellectually brilliant leadership comes not as a blessing but a curse to a civilization. Perhaps Toynbee would not be so impressed with Bezos and Jobs.
But I do wonder if Toynbee was wrong about this. Apple products have made enjoyment of music, for example, accessible in ways not previously possible. I realize that a lot music is pirated but that is not Apple’s fault, and anyone my age can remember the necessity of buying whole cd’s to get the 2 songs you liked. Amazon may get a bad wrap for putting Borders out of business, but I love that the world is now my library, and I have benefitted greatly from the access that Amazon gives me. Of course nothing is perfect, but on balance it seems that Apple and Amazon have changed the world in positive ways. Let us grant that Bezos and Jobs are/were tough bosses. But both did, on the other hand, have a large role in creating companies that employ thousands of people.
But I hesitate to disagree with Toynbee, so I must imagine how he would respond. He might say that increased access is only an improvement of technique and not a real breakthrough. He might continue that improvement in technique does not improve our souls, and what’s more, this technical advance (unaccompanied by a spiritual advance) will likely fool us into thinking that we are “all that.” This delusion will lead to much greater problems later on.
This would be a really good counter-argument, one I am tempted by. But I don’t know.
I do really like Amazon Prime.