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Thursday, 13 October 2011

Cherry picking the dead

The eulogies given in memory of Steve Jobs have been complex and interesting, most of all those coming from the left or liberal side of life. Patrick Neilson Hayden is aware of the complexities:

‘Late capitalism sucks…Our futures are controlled by people who don’t give a crap for anything we care about…Steven Jobs cared about something. Without him our lives would have been different and probably worse.’

I imagine this is the same late capitalism that exploits cheap Asian labour in the manufacture of designer trainers and err…Apple products. So the issue is whose lives are we talking about?

Steven Fry, a man who has given pleasure to millions, and to my knowledge exploits no one trills like a song bird in heat when discussing the Apple product in hand:

“I would be dishonest if I did not confess to the childlike excitement, the pounding thrill, the absurd pride and the rippling pleasure I always feel on such occasions…”- an iphone, not something more intimate.

Steven Fry mocks his own reactions, showing to everyone his awareness of the irrational, but, and with total justification, refers to Jobs as ‘a great personality’, a ‘remarkable man’ and a ‘visionary’.

The ‘dark side’, from the view point of the liberal left, is acknowledged but glossed over:

"It would be vulgar to say that the proof of the correctness of Job’s vision is reflected in the gigantic capitalisation value of the Apple Corporation, the almost fantastically unbelievable margins and the eye-popping cash richness which has transformed a company that was on the brink of collapse when Jobs arrived back in 1997 into the greatest of them all.”

Vulgar or not Fry says it, but offers a further qualification.

“… abject worship is (not ) the only allowable viewpoint when it comes to the life and career of this magnificently complicated man. I am very glad that I did not work for him. I cannot claim he was a friend but over thirty year or so years I bumped into him from time to time and he was always warm, charming, funny and easy to talk to, yet I know, and the world has already been told enough times over the past few days and weeks, that he was a fearsome boss, often a tempestuous mixture of martinet, tyrant, bully and sulky child.”

But against that we have:

“His perfectionism, the absolute conviction and certainty in the rightness of his opinions… the charisma, passion, delight in detail, excitement and belief in the creation of a new future – the sheer magnetic force of the man made his many faults a forgivable and almost loveable part of his mystique and greatness...I will not be so presumptuous as to mourn the loss of Steve as a personal friend, but I will mourn his loss as a man who changed my world completely."

All well and good and generously said, but where’s the consistency? Much the same words might well be used in Margaret Thatcher’s eventual obituary, but not presumably by Stephen Fry:

And here is where the irrationality of the heart is laid bare because Stephen Jobs was Thatcherite in spirit. Job’s realistic, hard-headed approach to customers:

“You can’t just ask customers what they want then try to give that to them,” he once said. “By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.”

To me this reveals the same autocratic spirit as Thatcher.

His attitude to Teaching Unions:

“What is wrong with our schools in this nation is that they have become unionized in the worst possible way. This unionization and lifetime employment of K-12 teachers is off-the-charts crazy."

Is similarly straight from the Margaret Thatcher song-book.

Steve Jobs had no interest in the rainforests or the environment. He did nothing for charity, scrapping Apple’s corporate philanthropy programmes on his return to the company in 1997.

He simply wanted everyone in the world to buy his products.

Like Margaret Thatcher and, I think, Reagan, Jobs was an early admirer of Ayn Rand, his later more ‘progressive’ persona a design feature as much as anything else. As Steve Wozniak put it:

(Steve Jobs wanted) to have a successful company and he had a lot of ideas. He must’ve read some books that really were his guide in life, you know, and I think… Well, 'Atlas Shrugged' might’ve been one of them that he mentioned back then. But they were his guides in life as to how you make a difference in the world. And it starts with a company. You build products and you gotta make your profit, and that allows you to invest the profit and then make better products that make more profit. I would say, how good a company is, it’s fair to measure it by its profitability."

Changing Stephen Fry’s world was incidental to Jobs’ primary aim: all-encompassing global market domination.

And this is not an attack on Stephen Jobs, Stephen Fry, or Patrick Neilson Hayden. What Stephen Jobs achieved was brilliant and consistent with his principles. But like all great men and women, cherry-picking their virtues and vices lead to problems of consistency.

(And, in the unlikely event that Patrick Neilson Hayden ever reads this. I hope he doesn’t see it as ‘the wag of a reproving finger’ and tell me to ‘plobz the frap off’ :)


Renee Miller said...

Excellent post, Mike. I thought the same as I read through each glowing tribute to Jobs. However, my thoughts weren't so articulate and pleasant. :)

Wendy Swore said...

Nice. Interesting how people tend to put sainthood onto deceased people. When I go, mine will be something like: she picked a lot'ta corn.

Mike Keyton said...

Renee and Wendy, thanks for the compliment. And Wendy, corn is corn.
Personally I thought Steve Jobs packed a lot in his life and was brilliant at what he did. It's the consistency of the eulogists whether from the right or the left that I was examining. The man was brilliant. The man had warts. But even then, the warts are a matter of interpretation.

Maria Zannini said...

I actually had a conversation with Maya about Jobs. She opened my eyes to a lot of things that aren't so nice about him.

But I have to admire how much he accomplished in his short 56 years. I should be so efficient.

It's normal not to mean-mouth the dead--after all, they had a bad last day.

Mike Keyton said...

It's normal not to mean-mouth the dead--after all, they had a bad last day. Funny, but Maria, I wasn't mean-mouthing him, nor asking anyone else to mean-mouth him. If anything I was analysing the logic of eulogies that lack rigour and depth.

Maria Zannini said...

I was just speaking in general terms. No one ever speaks badly of the dead. We usually wait a few days/weeks/months, depending on how well he was liked.

Mike Keyton said...

Understood, Maria. I share your opinion about speaking ill of the dead. But I don't believe in glossing the warts because in that way you deny them respect. When all is said and done, one man's wart is another man's virtue. I appreciate the discussion.

Claudia Del Balso said...

I don't know much about Steve Jobs' personal life (I recorded a documentary about him to learn more about him) :-)
However, I admire him for his vision, perseverance, and commitment. In fact, I admire anyone who's a visionary and defeats all odds. Steve Jobs, R.I.P.

Mike Keyton said...

Claudia, I admire Steve Jobs for his vision. I admire anyone, man or woman who has vision or commitment. I was looking at the emotional entanglement of those who genuinely admire and connect with Steve Jobs by glossing over what they may ferociously criticise in others.

Ref RIP - I think that will pose a bit of a challenge to him :)

Renee Miller said...

I have to say, in reference to no one speaking badly of the dead,if they're assholes in life, I have no qualms about saying so the minute after they die.

Let's be clear, I'm not saying Steve Jobs was an asshole. Just talking about dead assholes in general. No one specific.

You know, this might be why I have such a strained relationship with Karma.

Mike Keyton said...

Born a Canadian is pretty good Karma, Renee

Unknown said...

Death is a funny old business. I always believed Steve Jobs to be a visionary - and a self-centred bastard who would do whatever it took, with no qualms whatsoever, to keep the Apple cash rolling in.

The day he died, I forgot what he was and remembered what he gave us. All I could do was feel grateful that I have a home filled with the most beautiful gadgets imaginable. (Yes, I can be shallow.) The world may have lost a man with vices, but there are plenty more of those around. We also lost a visionary and, unfortunately, they're a bit thin on the ground.

Mike Keyton said...

I'm not arguing with that, Shirley. If I'm arguing with anything it's with those who look the other way with regard to the vices, which is a damn silly thing to do because what they see as vices others might see as virtues, so what they are doing is protecting or ignoring (I'm not too sure which)their own human irrationality.