Readings: The Cathedral of Steve Jobs
New York’s Fifth Avenue has four cathedrals within a nine blocks of one another. Start with Saint Patrick’s where perhaps two dozen assemble daily for 8:00 a.m. Mass. Descend the steps and immediately across the street the giant iron Atlas holds the world on his massive shoulders at the entrance to Rockefeller Center. A few blocks north and you may bow to Abercrombie & Fitch where, in warm weather, shirtless muscular ushers greet the swarm of twenty-somethings streaming around the block to come in and pay.
But the most awesome shrine stands at Central Park South, across from the legendary Plaza Hotel, the cathedral of Steve Jobs, where the new redesigned giant glass cube, 33 X 33 feet, looms above the subterranean Apple store, and the lines, mostly from the Eastern World, stream down from Park Ave, waiting since early morning to buy the latest iThing. The day Jobs died hundreds (thousands?) of tiny stickers adorned the construction wall mourning the loss of the prophet. Someone even uttered “saint.”
As the tributes piled high I waited for a journalist to put the man in perspective. Eric Alterman, the columnist I wait most anxiously to read, said it best in The Nation: "The Agony and Ecstacy—and 'Disgrace' of Steve Jobs." In spite of the many ways in which Jobs’s products improved our lives, he was only a hero in the Ayn Randian sense, a living character out of Atlas Shrugged, who treated his people like serfs and “hoarded his $8.3 billion fortune to no apparent purpose.” Apple, says Alterman, is a wonderful company for its customers and investors, but “also an engine of misery for its subcontracted Chinese workers.” Alterman is primarily a media critic, but also a historian, and his great talent is to take a story that the professional media have bungled, out of laziness or bias or both, and set it straight. The treatment of Jobs’s life is a testament to “how enthralled our media are by the myth of a man’s talismanic qualities, and how easily manipulated most reporters are by wealthy, successful entrepreneurs.”
Alterman recounts the investigative work of monologist Mike Daisey who went to China to investigate the Foxconn plant in Shenzhen, China, where 420,000 workers turn out computer products for Apple and other companies. He found 34-hour shifts, beatings, child labor, and an epidemic of suicides in a prison-camp atmosphere. Jobs didn’t care.
And what has Jobs done with all his money? He has sat on it. Including another $76 billion in cash resting in a Nevada corporation invented to store his money in a “tax-advantageous manner,” in a state with no corporate or capital-gains taxes. Alterman contrasts Jobs with Bill Gates who is “devoting the better part of his fortune to improving the lives of millions of the world’s poorest people.” Jobs told his biographer that Gates was “unimaginative and has never invented anything” and therefore is “more comfortable in philanthropy.” Alterman quotes Andrew Carnegie: “The man who dies...rich, dies disgraced.”
Maybe Carnegie read the Gospel of Luke’s parable (12:16-21) about the rich man who grew more crops than he could store. So rather than share, he built bigger barns to store his grain and goods, so he could “relax, eat, drink and be merry.” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose shall they be?”
Raymond A. Schroth