“We see this all of the time in religions,” Benjamin Zeller, associate professor of religion at Lake Forest College, told Salon. “[Musk] has an ability to become associated with exciting ideas in which he becomes the spokesman for those ideas. People see these leaders as the personification of their ambitions, goals, hopes and desires.”
Zeller, who wrote about the cult of Apple shortly after Jobs’ death in 2011, says that the tech industry is particularly prone to creating these cults of personality because technology is perceived to offer solutions to many of the world’s problems. One could draw biblical comparisons: that renewable energy will rescue us from the great flood of global warming or that Mars could someday offer humanity an exodus from a dying planet.
“Also, technology can sometimes seem like magic,” Zeller said. “It’s something beyond our mortal understanding.”
And Silicon Valley is not short on these Silicon prophets who profess to be disrupting convention and making the world a better place for everyone.
There’s Rob Rhinehart, founder of the food-substitute beverage Soylent, who’s selling the idea of a more efficient way to deliver nutrients to the body. Uber founder Travis Kalanick wants to take over the global taxi and livery industry with robotic cars. Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh has built his reputation around radically reinventing the workplace and urban living. There are fallen angels, too, like Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes, once the darling of hedge fund investors for her (since disastrously failed) attempt to diagnose a range of diseases from one drop of blood.
Charismatic leaders, whether they’re Silicon Valley billionaires, presidents, or the heads of actual cults, carefully craft their charisma, says Zeller. We know from court documents, for example, that Musk himself has gotten upset when the “difficult to control” media is perceived as downplaying his role at Tesla…