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obligatory ‘steve jobs is dead’ post

October 7, 2011

So, Steve Jobs is dead. To be honest, I’m ambivalent about Steve Jobs’ passing as I didn’t know him personally; but I find the polarizing effect his death has had interesting. I see people fawning over him as if he single-handedly cured cancer and “invented the future,” while others decry him as a capitalist monster who outsourced production to hellish Chinese factories and bashed teachers unions as “off-the-charts crazy.”

For my own part, I don’t think he was a saint or a monster, just an exceptionally intelligent, ambitious and lucky man (sans the whole pancreatic cancer thing) who was good at what he did, which wasn’t necessarily good for all those inevitably involved. I will say, however that these opposing reactions bring to mind the Great Man Theory debate, which I think is perfectly illustrated by these two different perspectives on Steve Jobs’ accomplishments: “Here’s to the crazy ones: a farewell to Steve Jobs” and “The Social Genius Behind Steve Jobs.”

In the end, my opinion of Jobs and his accomplishments falls more on the cynical side (as I’m generally critical of what Arthur Goldhammer calls “the hagiographic depiction of Steve Jobs as the heroic entrepreneur,” which often ignore his penchant for authoritarianism and other faults); and as amazing and intelligent as he may have been (which I don’t doubt is also true), I can’t help but be reminded of Bertolt Brecht’s poem, “Questions From a Worker Who Reads“:

Who built Thebes of the 7 gates ?
In the books you will read the names of kings.
Did the kings haul up the lumps of rock ?

And Babylon, many times demolished,
Who raised it up so many times ?

In what houses of gold glittering Lima did its builders live ?
Where, the evening that the Great Wall of China was finished, did the masons go?

Great Rome is full of triumphal arches.
Who erected them ?

Over whom did the Caesars triumph ?
Had Byzantium, much praised in song, only palaces for its inhabitants ?

Even in fabled Atlantis, the night that the ocean engulfed it,
The drowning still cried out for their slaves.

The young Alexander conquered India.
Was he alone ?

Caesar defeated the Gauls.
Did he not even have a cook with him ?

Philip of Spain wept when his armada went down.
Was he the only one to weep ?

Frederick the 2nd won the 7 Years War.
Who else won it ?

Every page a victory.
Who cooked the feast for the victors ?

Every 10 years a great man.
Who paid the bill ?

So many reports.

So many questions.


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