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Peter Certo
Published: Tuesday 11 October 2011
Apple’s products may be exceptional, but judged at least against the sorry standards of global capitalism, the way it makes its money isn’t.

An Alternative Eulogy for Steve Jobs

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The late Steve Jobs was, without question, a brilliant designer, a skilled businessman, and a talented aesthetician. His leadership of Apple fundamentally changed how we use computers and how we listen to music, and it is largely because of him that many of us now live our lives through the small devices we keep in our pockets.

Jobs was, moreover, an inspiration to those who wanted to believe that a different kind of businessman—even a different kind of American—could master the capitalist system. He was, in the words of progressive blogger Juan Cole, an “Arab-American, Buddhist, Psychedelic Drug User, and Capitalist World-Changer.”

But Steve Jobs was something else, too: the personification of Apple’s anti-establishment brand. He was a living, breathing monument to the underdog and the freethinker, an image most famously peddled by Apple in its notorious “1984” commercial heralding the arrival of the Macintosh computer. In the days since his untimely death, the social media universe has been suffused with quotations from Jobs’ addresses to students, his thoughts on life on death, and his exhortations to the passionate yet frustrated youth of the world, bearing testimony to the resilience of his reputation.

Jobs was most certainly aware of the marketing niches that might be secured by dint of his personal aura. Indeed, as numerous studies have suggested, today’s Apple users are considerably more likely than their PC counterparts to consider themselves nonconformist, open-minded, and politically liberal. Outpacing its small but growing share of the overall computer market, Apple has captured thebiggest share of laptop users at U.S. colleges, as young people increasingly turn away from the stodgy and inflexible PCs depicted in Apple’s famed “I’m a Mac” commercials.

But such is marketing. Jobs may have been an exceptional designer, but when it comes to the multifaceted corporate malfeasance that has come to characterize the global electronics industry, Apple is exceptional for its profit margins alone.

Unsavory Practices at Home and Abroad

Like the forbidden fruit of Adam and Eve, Apple's troubles begin in the ground.

In recent years, activist campaigns like the “Enough” project have highlighted the role so-called “blood minerals” have played in prolonging the war in the Congo, which has left more than 5 million people dead since 1998. With its rich deposits of tin, tungsten, coltan, and gold – essential components for circuit boards and other electronic apparatuses – the eastern Congo is a hotspot for tech suppliers from all over the world.

Enriched by hundreds of millions of dollars from foreign technology companies, armed groups in the region exploit Congolese civilians by using them as forced labor in often-dangerous mineral mines. As various factions fight for control of these mines and the trade routes connecting them to markets, the civilian populations caught in the crossfire are routinely brutalized.

Prompted by the bad press over its “genocide phones,” Apple announced last April that it would attempt to purge conflict minerals from its African supply chain. However, in accordance with a congressional proscription on conflict minerals that took effect that same month, Apple’s compliance is likely to be largely voluntary and thus not subject to independent audits. In any case, companies like Apple and Hewlett Packard have already fueled the conflict for more than a decade.

Apple has drawn further criticism for abuses in its manufacturing process, particularly at the Shenzhen, China complex of Foxconn, a Taiwanese manufacturing behemoth that has assembled electronics for virtually every major tech company in the world. Disguising himself as an American investor, journalist-playwright Mike Daisey visited the Foxconn complex and documented dozens of reports of abusive labor practices, including the widespread use of child labor, the intimidation of employees seeking redress for workplace injuries, and more generally an oppressive combination of lengthy shifts, constant surveillance, and authoritarian management. The Foxconn Daisey described was essentially a private-sector partner to the Chinese government’s program of oppression: it kept would-be activists busy, monitored, and under control.

Apple fervently disputed Daisey’s allegations, but there’s no disputing the disturbing spate of worker suicides that preceded his visit. In the months prior to Daisey’s visit—a peak production period when Apple was gearing up to release the iPhone 4—at least 18 Foxconn workers attempted suicide, 14 of them successfully. Foxconn responded to the ensuing outcry by increasing wages, but it also forced employees to sign “no-suicide” pacts, cancelled compensation to the families of workers who took their own lives, and installed “suicide nets” beneath tall buildings.

Outside of Shenzhen, a recent report by a coalition of Chinese NGOs has linked Apple suppliers to widespread environmental contamination in China, contributing to polluted water supplies and sharp increases in cancer deaths. Apple won plaudits for withdrawing from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce over its climate-change denial, but one wonders whether it will be willing to do the same with its environmentally hostile partners in China.

Finally, inside the United States, Apple has lent its support to the so-called WIN America campaign, a lobbying effort by a coalition of large U.S.-based corporations to get Congress to let them repatriate their offshore funds at dramatically lower tax rates. Much of this money is ferreted away in offshore tax havens. Although these companies promise to create new jobs with the repatriated dollars, a new report by the Institute for Policy Studies shows that the largest beneficiaries of a similar tax holiday in 2004 simply used the extra money to increase their executives’ compensation, cutting hundreds of thousands of jobs in the years since. Apple itself stands to save over $4 billion in taxes if the holiday is enacted, effectively stiffing the U.S. taxpayers who have funded the public infrastructure on which Apple relies to do business.

No Exception

At every stage of the process, then—extraction, manufacture, and market—Apple’s business practices have hurt the people on whom the company relies for its prosperity.

Of course, Apple is hardly the lone offender when it comes to such abuses, nor even is it necessarily the worst. The company indeed uses the same unenlightened suppliers, contractors, and lobbyists as many of its major competitors, as well as countless other manufacturers from other sectors of the marketplace.

But that is exactly the point. Apple’s products may be exceptional, but judged at least against the sorry standards of global capitalism, the way it makes its money isn’t. The company’s marketing successes among self-described progressives, artists, and students—that vanguard trio of globalization critics—is a remarkable testament to the successful “anti-establishment” brand so personified by its late chairman.

It shouldn’t have to be this way. Apple’s profit margins are famously comfortable, with the company profiting not only from the sale of devices but also from an endless traffic of iTunes and apps. More robust supply chain diligence would hardly turn the company’s ink from black to red. But even if it would, the company enjoys the brand recognition, market share, and affluent customer base to weather a slight increase in the price of its devices, which are already decidedly luxury items. How many other tech companies, after all, can count on devotees lining up outside stores days in advance to shell out $600 for the latest version of a product they probably already own?

Of course, when faced with a business model that depends on war zones, sweatshops, and offshore tax shelters, to consider what level of reform would still permit Apple’s executives to turn a profit seems at best perverse.

Maybe, with the loss of Steve Jobs, Apple’s rebel brand will eventually fade and the company’s executives will find it profitable to clean up their operation. It would certainly befit the memory of a man President Obama called “brave enough to think differently.” Jobs certainly thought differently, but the company he created acted the same as the competition.



Jobs need not be judged. The

Jobs need not be judged. The Alice Miller analysis is a leap no one who was not an intimate confidant can assert with veracity. Give me Gates or give me Jobs? I'll take
Jobs based on pursuit of excellence, utility, security, aesthetics, and sheer guts. Yet to throw vitriol at either one is unnecessary and unenlightened and brutally rude. These are not arms manufacturers. Cast your light on those who kill and plunder as their contribution to people and the earth. And on your government.

AVIDREADER What is the

AVIDREADER

What is the difference between an arms manufacture who breeds war, or the entrepreneur who breeds a poverty-ridden-war-for-survival on the very employees who create the products we laud as the "pursuit of excellence."

In terms of human suffering both arms and ipods are equivalent--whether the genocide of war, or the genocide of business. And who is to judge that creating suicide factories of such oppression that workers fling themselves to death is more acceptable suffering and oppression that to say bomb a weaker country back into the stone age? To me, both are acts of oppression and cruelty, and the idealization of either is a thin and dangerous line to walk.

And in both cases, the root of which is denial of tyranny and oppression--whether of the general of industry or the general of war- we are led astray by a hero worshiping distortion, and ultimately acceptance of the facts of atrocity committed under either.

The judgment your read into this piece may have been unintentionally harsh, but so far as making that leap of veracity is concerned, its true. I made quite a leap based on my own reading of the published facts of his life. I am after all, an ex-admirer. It would be wonderful to see a Miller type critique of the dynamics of Jobs childhood. As indeed of our others leaders.

There, I am quite sure we would see tragic patterns, in a tragic life, and not the hero we like to paint.

Surely it is a false dichotomy to claim it is a choice of whether we view oppression by government, the war industry or the businessman as least or worse- Whats the difference whether we kill and plunder directly, or vicariously, through the suffering we export to third world countries and special economic zones.

Ultimately, the abusive mechanics of human suffering are the same, whether that abuse transmits itself through the channels of governmental agents, our captains of industry, or the generals in our military-industrial complex.

(I apologize if this is

(I apologize if this is double-posted. Trouble with "the system".)

This is an excellent essay. I know it is true, and I dispute very little of what is said in the comments. I'd like to expand on Andrea Rosen's comment (2:22 p.m.); "I hadn't realized how very toxic the supply chain side of things is." I've come to realize that ANY product, whether it be raspberries, sex, religion - you name it - is corrupted in proportion to the length of its distribution channel. I've also come to realize that virtually everything I need, or think I need, to survive and thrive, comes to me through very extensive and complex distribution channels. And the measure of corruption sits heavy on my heart. I have a little saying as I fill the various gas tanks on the machinery that I use to run our little organic farm; "There's a bucket of blood in every barrel, and a teaspoon in every bite." That, for me, is a eucharistic prayer. (For you theologians, when I was in seminary, we used to have the stupidest, arcane arguments about the various meanings and non-meanings of "Transubstantiation" and "The Real Presence". Just shows how out of touch the bulk of the churches, in all their iterations, are with the evil that swirls around us all - awash in eucharistic blood!)

As a species, we made a fateful shift, some 20,000 years or so ago, in the way we scaled human life. We left "The Forest", where our entire genomic sensory apparatus evolved for maybe three MILLION years, at the speed of foot. "Spoot". That determined the "reach" of our essential requirements of survival. Tragically our genomic reach is no longer capable of assessing the necessary details that we must if we are to live in our habitat successfully. We have so scaled up that if we are unable to contract back to something slow enough to make good ecological and humane choices, our prospects seem dim to me.

Think about those stone-age (been there for some 50,000 years) Andaman Islanders who survived (100%!!) the Indonesian tsunami (nothing quite like a cohesive, culture-integrated oral history to keep the story straight enough, through vast numbers of generations between events – “when the earth jiggles a certain way, and the birds suddenly do this or that, and all the dogs howl, and the surf receeds and you start seeing fish going batshit crazy, GET YOUR ASS TO HIGH GROUND!”) . And they did! Oh how I love telling that story to the technopriests!

When we stopped spooting and scaled up food production with agriculture, we enabled whatever self-destructive proclivities our hunter-gatherer ancestors possessed to metastasize to demonic proportions. The growth of our scales of existence has never stopped. In terms of our evolved history, this era, (which the ancients describe as, "The Fall") has been but a blink of history's eye. Our species has been headed down hill ever since . . . the constant acceleration of entropy. All oil did was kick start that whole process into overdrive. Entropy squared, so to speak.

Steve Jobs was just a bigger version of one of us. Weep.

An awesome, and

An awesome, and denial-busting account of the truth behind the idealised poster child.

Actions speak. And the actions behind the idealistic heroic-father-figure-as -entrepreneur suggest a deep lack of empathy, and the pursuit and rationalization of inhuman practices described in the article. Indeed, Jobs is often portrayed as tyrannical, and demanding in his treatment of the dependent (child-like) co-workers around him.

And exactly how does mass producing plastic toys really bring about the inner spiritual-enlightenment that Jobs had once sought, before starting Apple, in an Indian Ashram and turned away from.

Alice Miller said, the body never lies, and cancer has some of its roots in the repressed toxins of undealt with issues. Exactly how much of this undesputiable genius's life was really about seeking approval from a father, or getting revenge on the father who abandoned him? Through the proxy of co-workers, or the proxy of love and recognition from the abandoning corporate board room, or the all embracing arms of society as the adoring parents?

How much of the board room battles were the re-enactment of the child hood drama of abandonment he'd suffered as a child? The fanaticism, and ruthless lack of empathy, that is a lack of concern for others of the costs of Job's own actions, are the dark side of this idealized father figure which ingrains itself in our collective media consciousness.

Truly enlightened, (in the sense Alice Miller meant it, as having brought to conscious childhood trauma he undoubtedly did not face) he most certainly wasn't. Yet at root was this the enlightenment he sought all his life? And projected onto society in the output of meaningless shiny toys he'd supplied for us, perhaps because of the love he never had as a child?

And the exploitation that lies behind the mass designed shiny childrens toys of a starved generation of child adults is not in my opinion truly bringing change in the world? How absurd. How can it? Are iPods, the Mac and iPhones, (themselves exploitatively expensive) really world changing solutions, or generated distractions distracting our genration, as we twiddle with our iPhones from facing the painful truth of the many, many, deep and troubling issues facing our generation today--mass extinction, ocean dead zones, water table toxicity, GM food, depleting fish stocks, the energy crisis, climate change, or the rampant epidemics of child abuse; worker and female bullying and oppression, and so on, and so on.

Clearly no. These were not the products of an enlightened consciousness, but an unenlightened unconsciousness. And here I use enlightenment in the sense that Alice Miller meant it, and not the spiritual-Buddhist sense.

These were products as toys, a fundamental distraction, an unconscious seeking for looks of admiration from the parent without, in the face of the Time, or the New Yorker, and ultimately a re-enacted recognition seeking from the severely damaged child within, a poor child that lay unhelped, despite the billions Jobs made, for the whole of this mans degraded life.

How much of that initial urge to inner enlightenment was ultimately destined to be a failure--when we look at the whole life? Redirected in mere substitutes, in the acting out, of attaining love through grandiose gesture, but never clearly attained truth of his own past. Instead of seeking self-enlightenment, this was a man who wanted to enlighten the world through his own products. Was Steve ultimately, in abandoning that inner voyage, abandoning himself again, as the father had once abandoned him.

Truth is better than illusion, and ultimately this was a man not to be idealized, but deeply pitied. A man who transplated illusion for the painful truth that could and may have led to real and not illusory enlightenment--and ultimately attained the boon of the deep inner peace that comes from real-self esteem won through the trials of travelling through the deep painful truth of one's own childhood. A peace, instead of the insecurity that must have torn him to rule the world, and ultimately the lack of which literally ate his own body alive.

For the whole of his life, Jobs own inner life, held in check by the child within, was never heard and so compelled to act out the tragedy of the past in circle of re-enactment. The drama of Job's devastating childhoodwas expressed through code, yet never once heard for what it was.

Must we not ask, whether Job's diversion, from his original quest for enlightenment, was not ultimately a grand and fatal conceit? And whether that conceit not ultimately distracted Jobs from facing his the real issues of his past, but whether the very same product of that troubled consciousness ultimately too distracted a large portion of the world from facing the deep and very real issues facing the world today--and whether through that, we have been deceived and abandoned by the idealized father-capitalist Jobs, in exactly the same way Jobs was deceived and abandoned by his father as a child.

Peter's article does us a grand service: in peeling away illusion, and our idols, just like the Caesers of yesteryear, we can begin to look with clarity to healthy role models, and real world changing figures of tommorrow that we should really aspire to if we truly want to bring about enlightenment in our deeply, deeply troubled world.

" we can begin to look with

" we can begin to look with clarity to healthy role models"

We need to BECOME healthy role models also. See my post below.

farmerhunt

Bravo. We all make choices.

Bravo. We all make choices. It is important that we understand the consequences of those choices.

Apple has successfully marketed and sold the "non conformist mystique" and warped it into "saps who support the corporate machine but think they are non-conformist".

Bravo. Thank you.

Bravo. Thank you.

I had been meaning to write

I had been meaning to write Steve Jobs to exhort him to manufacture less toxic versions of his beautiful-looking consumer electronics so that recycling would not be so onerous to the environment and the workers tasked with disassembling discarded computers etc. for their valuable parts. I hadn't realized how very toxic the supply chain side of things is. If Apple wants to hold on to its progressive image, it must become a leader in greener, more labor-friendly manufacturing processes. Indeed, why not bring manufacturing back to these shores as a first step in rebuilding the manufacturing base all healthy economies require?

Steve Jobs was a businessman.

Steve Jobs was a businessman. A very successful businessman, whose marketing machine and vaguely counterculture image made him more money than he knew what to do with. He is not a techno-deity. He was a man, a very rich man who really did not challenge the status quo. He just knew how to manipulate it very very well. Enough already.

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