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’ :)