Scott Galloway is a business expert, a life achiever and coach in the way of Steven Covey for a new generation. But Scott has grit and toughness and boldness in his teaching. As a professing atheist (according to this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qMW6xgPgY4s&fbclid=IwAR1ZKrQYzcsCiO7YtTzkiechtBIqyTFQEgnDI8ezVu1_bMFlDx8J5XSVm6M), it seems that his conviction causes him to find his energy and drive from his belief in human willpower. He reminds me of a pep-talking football coach, attempting to tap into the limited strength of the ego with a “bootstraps” philosophy toward life. Standing at a different place in terms of my understanding of human existence, I find concern in where this philosophy will land for him at the end of his life.
People who can both define and find success through self-discovery and sheer willpower are both admirable and rare, but there is a limit to this approach to life. He finds his freedom in a belief that nothing has eternal consequence. As such, he puts everything into making this life the best it could be. Interestingly, I sort of do the same thing for the exact opposite reason, namely, because I believe everything does have eternal consequence. But I seek to tap into a strength and will that is greater than my own.
Galloway is a fascinating study on what about atheism motivates atheists to lead a satisfying life? What drives a staunch atheist to do good in the world? As a Calvinist, I see the trouble of the human heart left to its own devices. I believe that unless people give themselves to a higher divine authority, they will function as their own savior and lord. For me, the idea of being my own savior and lord is deeply troubling, and frankly it should be for a man like Scott Galloway. Atheism is a religious belief, one in which Scott Galloway is not shy about sharing. I sometimes find it difficult to read a “secular” business or leadership book that is infiltrated with religious beliefs, especially ones that are strikingly the opposite of mine. Right from the start, there is a barrier for me, as the reader, to overcome. For me, it’s hard to seek truth in a book that is based on what I consider a faulty premise regarding human existence, especially since it is this conviction that drives his work.
All this aside, Galloway does offer a somewhat compelling critique of Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple. Given the density of the author’s ego, I wondered if this book was in part fueled by unchecked jealousy that the author was unable to find the same magnitude of notoriety as Jobs and Bezos in his own personal career. This, of course, would be judgmental on my part to assign motive, so I choose to merely wonder about this rather than definitively assigning motive.
None of his attacks on these companies were new, at least not at a high level. The author offers a fairly intense look at these companies’ practices and the ways in which we as a society are shaped over time without really realizing what it is happening around and among us. In our DMin program, we talk a lot about global “forces” that come to bear on the ministry of the church, like consumerism. Galloway focuses his work on how these four companies have created “forces” that come to bear on every aspect of our lives and experience on the earth as humans in today’s world.
I also wondered about his critique of Amazon, with particular regard to the creation of jobs. Galloway claimed that Amazon is wiping out mom and pop business, retailers, etc., even as it creates “Amazon” jobs. So, according to Galloway, more jobs are being wiped out than created by Amazon. What I did not see Galloway address was the way in which Amazon also provides a platform for third-party manufacturers to sell their products when they had none before. It’s just really hard to say at this point the cost/benefit analysis of the force of Amazon. The power Bezos holds, however, is definitely terrifying. Amazon could end up being more destructive than beneficial to society, but maybe not. The jury seems to still be out.
Regarding Apple, the author seems incorrect about the superiority of their competitors and that Apple is really all about image and sex. Likely partially true, but Apple really is more about user experience than image association. My experience with different phones and computers wants to disagree with the author’s research on this company.
Don’t get me wrong. I do agree that these four companies are in fact controlling our lives and shaping us in many unwanted ways, but it is the absolute declaratory nature of the author’s style that creates suspicion in the thoughtful reader. The cover flap says it all: “Just about everyone thinks they know how [the four became influential]. Just about everyone is wrong.” What a claim to make! “Everyone is wrong…except for me, of course.” I’m just not so sure.
I was surprised by his lack of discussion of Starbucks. Maybe he has a better and more positive personal relationship with the officers of the Starbucks Corporation, or maybe he enjoys his latte too much to critique an equally influential retail force around the world. It would have been perfect, though, to add to his collection. God, sex, community, consumption, and Mother Nature. The dominance of the coffee farming industry across the globe; the ways in which Starbucks has been criticized for wiping out local farmers and their corrective attempts to then support local famers; their culture of wellness products pushed in their stores and the “green earth” movement for which Starbucks has been a champion (not to mention their green logo with an image of a twin-tailed mermaid). Subtract the green earth marketing strategies from the actual amount of waste in paper cups, and Galloway has another critique all set and ready to go.
The Four is largely a philosophy of human existence based on Atheism, and the ways in which the forces of these four companies hinder our ability to live thriving lives as people who believe in nothing but the pursuit of self-happiness. Everyone has to have a god of sorts. Scott seems to fluctuate between the god of Americanism and the god of self, which are oftentimes difficult to distinguish from one another.