Leftists: 'Othering' the Productive Is Wrong

Monday, November 18, 2019

Over the weekend, I finished reading Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart Into a Visionary Leader, by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli. I highly recommend the book for anyone who wants or needs (1) the inspiration of a real-life story of someone who has triumphed over major mistakes brought on by errors in thinking or personality flaws, or (2) an awareness of what some of these obstacles can be and how to overcome them.

This engrossing book delivers on those promises with aplomb, and I am very grateful. But it is so much more than that. The authors -- who speak in the first person as Tetzeli -- hint at this in the below passage:

Captain of Industry. Human Being. (Image by Matthew Yohe, via Wikimedia Commons, license.)
What I have always loved about business journalism, and what I have learned from the very best colleagues I've worked with, is that there is always a human side to the seemingly calculated world of industry. I knew this was true about Steve when he was alive -- no one else I have ever covered was so passionate about the creations of his business. But only in writing this book have I come to understand just how much the personal life and the business life of Steve Jobs overlapped, and just how much the one informed the other. You can't really understand how Steve became our generation's Edison and Ford and Disney and Elvis, all rolled into one, until you understand this. It's what makes his reinvention such a great tale. (p. 14) [bold added]
This book is a major step in the right direction for giving justice to the memory of Steve Jobs. Jobs, widely admired though he is, has many more detractors than his own bluntness and errors would explain, and the authors go a long way in rebutting the caricature -- convenient to the evil and the lazy -- of Jobs as "half-genius, half-asshole."

That said, it is possible to go further than this book, by considering the words of another widely-misunderstood genius, Ayn Rand. Rand saw no breach between the moral and the practical, because she saw that the purpose of morality was to offer man rational guidance for the purpose of his own flourishing. As highly as I regard Becoming Steve Jobs, its authors were not focused on fighting the near-universal stereotypes of "cold," "calculating" reason, or of the near-universal equation of the terms morality and selflessness. Late in the book, for example, Tim Cook, Jobs's friend and successor as Apple CEO, praised Jobs because he was not "selfish." Given today's cultural context, this is understandable -- but it does threaten to limit what one can learn from Jobs's extraordinary life.

Just one example comes from late in the book, when Jobs, tired and in pain from his illness, is having to seek approval from the Cupertino City Council for his company's eventual headquarters:
When one councilwoman tried to joke with him that perhaps the city should get free Wi-Fi in return for approving the move, Steve said, "Well, you know, I'm kind of old-fashioned. I believe that we pay taxes, and that the city then gives us services." (p. 403)
It's bad enough that we have the coercive arrangement of the government taking money at all, regardless of pretext. It is revealing that this adult female shamelessly "joked" about taking even more money from Jobs and his company. But generations of altruistic and collectivist intellectuals and politicians have made this into a norm as Ayn Rand once put quite well in her essay, "America's Persecuted Minority: Big Business:"
America's industrial progress, in the short span of a century and a half, has acquired the character of a legend: it has never been equaled anywhere on earth, in any period of history. The American businessmen, as a class, have demonstrated the greatest productive genius and the most spectacular achievements ever recorded in the economic history of mankind. What reward did they receive from our culture and its intellectuals? The position of a hated, persecuted minority. The position of a scapegoat for the evils of the bureaucrats.
Here, I am sure the shameless little thief felt that Jobs needed to "give back" to the "community," despite the fact that he had already personally benefited millions of people around the globe through mutually beneficial (and consensual!) trades.

It is currently en vogue on the left (whose proposals for the economy would make it impossible for even much lesser men than Steve Jobs to produce what we want and need) to speak of "othering" minorities. They should look in the mirror and think long and hard about how they treat -- and incite others to treat -- the productive, on the pretext that they have large amounts of money.

They probably won't, but anyone who is "undecided" -- as an acquaintance of mine admitted he was -- between capitalism and socialism should consider how they would feel about having what they worked for taken away from them just because someone else didn't have it. More important, they should think about why someone would do this in the first place, and what to do about it.

-- CAV


Today: Corrected a misspelling of Jobs. 


Scott Holleran said...

Great review, Gus. It's not that the leftist probably won't think twice; it's that he can't, not if he's really a leftist. His morality and view of life precludes it. He will never think of Jobs (or himself if he's productive) as capable of being persecuted; his Rearden errors are entrenched in his thoughts and they cannot be dislodged without fundamental premise checking. Anyway, your connection about the humanity of the businessman is excellent. You make me want to read the book. This is one of your best posts. P.S. There's a typo, I think, where "Job" should be "Jobs")

Gus Van Horn said...


Thanks for the point, the compliment, and the correction.