Friday, November 4, 2011
We're All Lucky Jobs Was Born in America
Like anyone, I love Apple products, and I agree that Steve Jobs is the Henry Ford/Walt Disney of our age. A corporate and a cultural hero.
But...you knew there was a "but" coming, right?
BUT. He was other things as well, like a complete tyrant. A belittling, abusive monster around the office and in his personal relationships. Not a nice guy.
What to make of this? Does all the adulation deserve an asterisk? My Psych 101 prof would have called it cognitive dissonance.
It was after I read the one thousandth fawning hagiography of Jobs that I recalled an op-ed piece I happened upon six or seven years ago. I wish I could remember who wrote it, but I found it an instructive way to view this. The thrust of it was this:
What a great country we live in that we can harness the incredible talents of a man like Jobs for the maximum possible social utility. If Jobs had lived in another time and place, 1930s Soviet Union, say, his talents might have been harvested in far different ways. Like organizing the gulags more efficiently. Or figuring out how to better terrorize the Kulaks.
You see, a man with talents as outsized as Jobs was not going to live a life of obscurity, no matter what circumstances of his birth. Steve Jobs, tyrant, lived a life of greatness thanks to the greatness of the system in which he lived. And while free market capitalism made Jobs rich, it created orders of magnitude more wealth for society in general, not to mention all the fun.
One wonders about the "what ifs" of those born to less fortunate political systems. What might Irwin Rommel have accomplished in America? Leni Riefenstahl? Or even, if I may be so provacative, a Josef Stalin? If you plucked Stalin from the USSR and gave him a life in, say, New York today, what might happen? He wouldn't kill millions, to be sure, and he likely wouldn't be lovable, but what would he accomplish? Something great? We'll never know.
Steve, nice or not, RIP.