Steve Jobs is Dead; Long Live Occupy Wall Street
by Timothy Malone
Every once in a while, the universe strings together two seemingly disparate events packed with so much interconnected meaning, that one must pause in wonder and ask if there is, perhaps, a greater intelligence at work behind the world of appearances.
The news cycle on wednesday October 5th has been dominated by two events/stories: on the one hand, the death of the iconic Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple inc., and on the other, the explosive momentum of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement.
As Jobs drew his last breath wednesday afternoon, the streets of New york City exploded in protest with 20,000-plus everyday people – workers, activists from a variety of causes with a plethora of demands, labor unions, the unemployed, students with overbearing debt burdens, anti-civilization hippies, and the generally anxious/bored. Although the demands are disparate, many of them can be unified in a critical analysis of the power of corporations over the democratic process, the increasing levels of inequality which are approaching truly obscene levels (and deeply racially structured), and a recognition of the power of Wall Street and financial power to influence/structure state policy for the benefit of a fraction of the population, the 1% who owns somewhere in excess of 30% of the nation’s total wealth.
All news reports I have seen about Jobs’ death have functioned as virtual memorial, tributes to the life of Steve Jobs: his individual genius, entrepreneurial drive, and creativity. They imply we have lost not only a giant of industry but an incredible human being, excellence personified, a charitable and decent person. I have no doubt about the individual character of Steve Jobs. I am sure he was, as the reports say, brilliant, kind, compassionate, inspired/inspiring. My sympathies extend to those who love him, and those he loved.
As we all know, Steve Jobs was also the CEO of Apple, Inc. – the second highest valued company in the world behind Exxon-Mobil, and at one point this summer, held more cash than the U.S. treasury.
I am left with a feeling of unease as I watch the perpetual stream of images, tributes, remembrances to Steve Jobs stream across the collective American consciousness in the form of mass media representation. I am left with the nagging suspicion that there is something missing from the analysis. To put it summarily, what is lacking is any node of criticality. What is missing is the recognition that “Steve Jobs” was, and is, an enemy to the project of human liberation. If Multinational Capitalism is a project which is antagonistic to human development and progress, then “Steve Jobs” may perhaps be the greatest threat to liberation on the planet. A controversial claim to be sure, and this article is an attempt to back up that exceptional claim.
First, some clarification on terms, and why I put “Steve Jobs” in quotes: Steve Jobs was not just a man, but I claim he is an ideology. In fact, “Steve Jobs” is the very ideology by which capitalism in its current form justifies itself. The overriding, hegemonic/mainstream understanding of Steve Jobs, and by extension Apple Inc., is as ‘good apple’ (as opposed to bad – Wall Street banks, Big Oil – including Exxon Mobil, privatized paramilitaries like the former Blackwater, now xe, etcetera). I am arguing that it is this very notion – that capitalism can produce “good” and “bad apples,” is a great impediment to the notion of popular democracy held by the protestors in the occupy together movement. For it privileges a case by case analysis over a more systemic criticism. My argument is that Capitalism must be viewed systemically, and in doing so, one recognizes the interconnection between the good Apple, Inc and the bad apples on Wall Street. You cannot have a good Apple, Inc., with out Wall Street, and Wall street/capitalism uses the image of good Apple, Inc. in order to assert that more radical engagements with the structures of capital are not necessary. If capitalism can produce Apple, Inc., perhaps capitalism isn’ all that bad. So says the Ideology of Jobs.
It would be trivial to say that the connection between the two stories is simply that the CEO of the world’s secondly highest valued company unfortunately passed at the very moment that the Occupy Wall Street movement crescendos. That’s metaphorically interesting, but this is not an ‘evil capitalist’ analysis. To make that case would be quite insensitive to jobs and his family, as well as a flawed (individualist/case by case/ good and bad apples) analysis.
The point is more subtle. There need be a separation between Steve Jobs the man, the individual with a family, a career, brilliant and innovative on the one hand – and the way that the symbol, the metaphor of “Steve Jobs,” is exchanged, traded and communicated in the culture.
This is a critique of the ideological apparatus in which the image of ‘Steve Jobs’ is enmeshed, used and exchanged within the contemporary moment of capitalism. My argument is that the narrative of Steve Jobs is the story which justifies the contemporary status quo. By extension, Apple, Inc. stands in as the representation for THE American corporation, par excellence. This status quo, ideologically justified by the narrative of ‘Steve Jobs,’ is precisely what the Occupy Wall Street protestors are challenging. If we demand an authentic structural engagement with the systemic features of American capitalism which privilege a small percentage of the population (1% may be too generous, more like 1/10th of 1%), it is the ‘Ideology of Steve Jobs’ which will prove our greatest resistance. It is easy to criticize greed and avarice on Wall Street when they are cashing in multi-million dollar bonuses, while the rest of the country is in economic free-fall. It is easy to see the damage done to the global commons when big oil spills in the Gulf, destroying the ecosystem, and refusing to accept responsibility. It is not as easy to criticize the genius Jobs, and the miraculous technologies he has graced us with.This ideology of Jobs (IOJ) is, I assert, the dominant mechanism by which a brutal and inegalitarian system is able to reproduce itself, and to maintain dominance. IOJ comes to stand in for American capitalism itself. Yet we cannot have capitalism without the excesses of Wall Street, the nanny-state, and rampant inequality. Apple, Inc. goes hand in hand with the most rapacious of American corporations, are in fact two heads of hydra-like contemporary capitalism.
What are the contents of this ideology, this justification of the status quo, that the ‘Occupy together’ movement resists?
1. Necessity of Hierarchy / ‘Great Man’ theory. The top-down tyrannical model, the corporate form is justified by the great-man’s superior creativity and vision.
2. ‘Free-Markets’ are the drivers of growth and technological creativity.
3. Capitalism with a human face: Jobs’ products and work, and by extension capitalism itself, has a heart.
4. Apple, Inc. is the new face of American capitalism, THE American company, and stands in as a representation of what we can do as a nation.
This is the ideology of “Jobs.” And today, “Jobs” died.
Hierarchy and the Great Man Theory
So says the IOJ:
There are ‘great-men,’ who through their exceptional talents, rise above the fray. Through sheer will power and independent genius, these great men guide us mere mortals (workers) to novel plateaus of possibility.
The corporate form (a tyrannical form of social organization, if the word has any meaning) is justified, because it puts Steve Jobs / great men at the top of the hierarchy. It is not only effective and efficient, but moral, that all power should flow from the top down. For Apple is his creation, vision, realization; “Jobs” is greater than us, greater meaning in the contemporary moment, more creative, inspired, inspirational.
So we say:
Not just political, but economic institutions require democratization, or the word democracy is nothing but an empty shell. We spend the majority of our waking lives on the job, or increasingly, out of one. We ask, can we be said to live in a democracy if we spend the majority of our capable lives and energy within an authoritarian institution, taking orders from above?
The economic institutions of society deeply influence, in fact control our politics. To support tyranny in the economy, and democracy in the political sphere, sounds to our ears, contradictory and hypocritical. Either democracy is the best way to organize institutions, or it is not. Workers and employees are intelligent enough to handle their own affairs, and to elect a leadership which emerges from and is accountable to their own ranks. Despite the Gifts of Jobs, such gifts do not justify totalizing/authoritarian institutions.
Though it is transparent and common sense, it bears repeating: in a corporation, all power flows from the owners through their board of directors, to the CEO, to his VP’s, then below to the mid-level managers, all they way down to the employees. The average worker has as much power as the level above him grants. Companies hire workers to make money off of them, or they don’t hire. Marx termed this ‘extraction of surplus value.’ Corporations are wealth extraction machines.
Such a structuration of our economic institutions has been with us for so long, and receives such ideological support from education, media and popular culture that it appears natural. Ideology justifies hierarchy as more efficient in allocating resources, people and decision making. People become CEO’s because they are the most qualified, talented intelligent, creative, etc. People become CEO’s because they are Steve Jobs, and Steve Jobs comes to stand in for CEO’s everywhere. And Steve Jobs is to have power over the rest.
Those of us on the ground of the occupy movements have quite a different conception of the way the our economic institutions should be structured. You can see it our General Assemblies (GA’s). As opposed to the top-down model of power, justified by individual genius, we believe in a bottom-up approach to power. We democratically vote on everything we can, including those who will be delegated power and authority for the sake of efficiency. We do not proceed without consensus. Power flows from the level below, always. If someone in a position of assigned authority is not functioning in a way beneficial to the group and its aims, a vote is taken, and she/he may be recalled.
Notice that if there is someone of exceptional creativity and genius, a ‘Jobs’ type in the collective, he would be democratically elected into a leadership position, for it would serve the interests of the group. There is nothing that precludes a Steve Jobs from being in a position of influence, nor would his ‘creative gifts’ be denied channels of expression.
In the modern corporation, the situation is precisely the opposite. For it is not the workers/participants in the organization that hold power. Absolute power does not even belong to Jobs (hence, why he was fired before being rehired in Apple Inc’s current manifestation). It belongs to the owners, the board of directors. These owners need not necessarily, and most likely do not, have any relationship to Apple, Inc. except owning it. They squeeze profit from the labor of the workers of Apple, Inc. like Apple Juice. Absolute power is vested in the profit motive by law. In fact, if Steve Jobs wanted to do something not in the interest of short-term profitability, like maintaining a domestic production workforce for his products, by law he should be fired. That is the status quo economic structure. It is profoundly undemocratic. Yet that very lack of democracy is justified by the IOJ, which asserts that Jobs’ genius alone that brought us to new technological heights. Jobs’ ran Apple as an authoritarian institution, but such an arrangement is justified by Job’s exceptional qualities.
So says IOJ.
We in the Occupy movements disagree.
Free-Markets are the laboratories in which creativity, technology, and economic growth emerge
So says the IOJ:
Steve Jobs is the contemporary Leonardo Da Vinci. He is our Thomas Edison. Nonsense.
Steve Jobs didn’t invent anything. He re-packaged things made in government funded labs funded by the taxpayer, then branded them effectively.
The narrative goes something like this – in their garage, some young technological savants, including Steve Jobs, built the first apple computer. In 1984, Jobs publicly reveals the first Macintosh, describing it as ‘insanely great,’ as an adoring crowd ooh’s and ahh’s at the anthropomorhic power of the graphic representation of human handwriting and speech. The apple2 computer, hits the market then the apple3. Jobs is fired illegitimately. He leaves, and goes on to form Pixar. Eventually Jobs’ is recruited batik to Apple, and under his leadership, the company develops technologies and applications from their intellectual hotbed in Cupertino, California, and the rest is history – the ipod, Ipad, Macbook, Itunes, etc.
One thing is left out of the story, and it’s pretty important. Namely, that the entire technological platform upon which Apple, Inc. was built – the very technologies of the computer – microchips, processors, semi-conductors, the internet, were all developed and subsidized by the taxpayer/state. The entire high-technology economy is supported through tax-payer subsidy under the guise of Military spending. The pentagon is a mask by which the state (run by corporations) transfers wealth from the taxpayer to their wealth extraction machines (corporations, private tyrannies)
It is cost-prohibitive, the research and development process too time-intensive and high-risk for high technology companies to assume the burden of technological development. The internet and the technology of the personal computer took decades to develop, with no immediate short-term profit on the horizon.. The state, by way of the taxpayer, funded that research.
If anything comes out of state funded research (as in the case of pc’s and the internet), the technology is handed over to private companies, for free, with no remittance to tax payers. This is the birth of Silicon Valley.
While Jobs and Apple, Inc. have combined technologies in some novel ways, packaged them well, perhaps made them more efficient and streamlined, it is the state which created and developed them, using your and my money. And we have received nothing for it, except for the opportunity to buy back stuff we paid for. The Da Vinci work was done by the state and paid for by us.
And this summer Apple, Inc. had more money than the US treasury.
Apple, Inc. thus functions ideologically to mask the reality that the free-market does not, in any sense, exist in the United States. It never has. The situation is more aptly described as a state-corporate nexus, in which the public pays the costs and takes the risk, and profit is privatized.
Imagine a situation in which to employ the technology developed by taxpayer funded labs (semi-conductors, the internet, computer chips, etc) Apple, Inc. had to pay a licensing fee into the U.S. treasury; seems like that might cut into the national debt. The people paid for those technologies, and the people should profit from their investment in the form of monies for public infrastructure. But to do so would be to effectively challenge private powers’ right to profit, despite their inability to create the very technologies which allow their profitability. So the situation goes unmentioned in dominant discourse. The great man ideology, combined with free-market rhetoric (despite free-markets lack of existence) leads to a situation of pure fantasy, which disciplines the population with narratives of individual greatness, american ingenuity, and freedom.
This ideology of free-market creativity is then used to attack the state as repressing capitalism’s inherent growth and productivity. The economic collapse is articulated as an outcome of government that is too large. This despite the fact that government funds the entire dynamic sectors of the so-called private economy.
Those who attack “big government,’ near universally want to maintain Pentagon spending, the mechanism by which the state subsidizes the high tech economy. So-called ‘defense’ is one of the only legitimate functions of government in radical-right theorizing. Their looting of the treasury is well hidden within rhetoric about the need to defend ourselves from terror. The government functions that will be attacked by free-market ideologues are not the nanny-state which empowers and supports them, but the functions that protect the population from the ravages of this system. Healthcare, education, environmental protection. Every program which benefits the population, not profitability for private tyranny.
The IOJ, through masking its own investment with this system, helps mask it across the board, through the narrative of the independently creative firm, on its own, spinning out revolutionary technologies – and with creativity and hard work, you can too.
So says IOJ.
We in the Occupy movements disagree.
Capitalism with a Human Face
Slavoj Zizek asserts that when you buy a cup of coffee from Starbucks, you are not just buying a cup of coffee. You are buying ‘good coffee karma.’ That is, with the very price of purchase, you are purchasing an alleviation of the guilt of consumer/consumptive practices, because some certain percentage of your purchase is going to some global cause somewhere. Political activism reduced to the consumptive act, as a politics of liberal humanism, reintegrated within capitalism, generosity and the desire to help commodified. (1)
Ideology of Jobs goes even further. Is there not an image of Apple, and Steve Jobs, as essentially philanthropic? This despite the fact that he is not on the record as a philanthropist. How? They very products he created and sold were in fact charities in themselves. They made the world a better place. There is no need to remediate the ravages of the world capitalist system with philanthropy any more (as if it could, but thats another story. See Zizek)Products will save the world. We have all heard the refrains – the internet as democratizing, the personal computer giving people the capacity to make their own media, etc.
Here is Dan Pallota, making the point quite explicitly in a blog in the Harvard Business Review:
“What a loss to humanity it would have been if Jobs had dedicated the last 25 years of his life to figuring out how to give his billions away, instead of doing what he does best….We’d still be waiting for a cell phone on which we could actually read e-mail and surf the web. “We” includes students, doctors, nurses, aid workers, charity leaders, social workers…It helps physicians improve their performance and surgeons improve their practice. It even helps charities raise money…We’d be a decade or more away from the iPad, which has ushered in an era of reading electronically that promises to save a Sherwood Forest worth of trees and all of the energy associated with trucking them around….And you can’t say someone else would have developed these things. No one until Jobs did, and the competitive devices that have come since have taken the entirety of their inspiration from his creation….Without Steve Jobs we’d be years away from a user-friendly mechanism for getting digital music without stealing it, which means we’d still be producing hundreds of millions of CDs with plastic cases…We would be without the 34,000 full-time jobs Apple has created, just within Apple, not to mention all of the manufacturing jobs it has created for those who would otherwise live in poverty…We would be without the wealth it has created for millions of Americans who have invested in the company….We would be without a whole new way of thinking. About computers. Leadership. Business. Our very potential. (2)
Lets go point by point.
Why did Jobs have billions in the first place? We already know that the core technologies of the Apple Computer were not created by Jobs, but in government labs at taxpayer expense. Why wasn’t a substantial portion of that money in the treasury, supporting the public infrastructure and reducing the debt in the first place? Why did Jobs make so much more money than Chinese workers (about $100 a month))? Was his packaging and marketing, his labor, that much more intrinsically valuable to the creation of the Ipad, or is it just valued that way by shareholders?
The emailing web surfing phone helps doctors, nurses, charity leaders, social workers, etc. And corporations, and police and dictators and prisons, and every other center of power that requires communication.
Deforestation is increasing in pace and scale.
Who says these devices wouldn’t be invented by someone else? The technologies underlying them certainly were. What technologies have not been created, because they weren’t in the interests of short-term profitability? Is there really a big enough difference between iphone 3 and 4, to justify the exuberant, over the top, Jobs-led, public release parties, broadcasting Jobs magnified image all over the world as a revolutionizer of potential?
Why is digital music ‘owned’ in the first place? Are independent musicians benefitted by such an arrangement? Did jobs just find a way to effectively maintain corporate monopoly over music within a medium the internet) that naturally occludes corporate control?
The jobs (as in employment) comment is just disgraceful. Corporate globalization is not a process of increasing American labor and raising living standards around the world, but is in fact a process of extending multinational control over the globe having precisely the opposite effect: hallowing out American industry in order to escape environmental regulation and fair labor practices. At the Chinese Foxconn factory, where Apple products such as the ipod are manufactured, there have been 18 suicide attempts, with 14 deaths due to the misery and perceived meaningless of life for those employed there. To remedy the situation, Foxconn has instituted a policy by which workers are forced to sign ‘no-suicide’ pledges if they desire to work. They have also installed nets to catch those who throw themselves from windows, which they, in a an Orwellian fashion, have dubbed ‘nets of loving hearts.’ “In reality, these ‘loving hearts’ are 10ft high wire fences on the roofs and 15ft wide nets at the base of all buildings. The human traps are to prevent people jumping to their deaths and smashing themselves on the pavements below.” When Jobs visited the factory, he described it as “pretty nice.” The conditions described in the factory are shocking, long hours with prison-like warehousing of workers for low pay. (3)
The entire report by Daily Mail is available here http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1285980/Revealed-Inside-Chinese-suicide-sweatshop-workers-toil-34-hour-shifts-make-iPod.html. Yet these labor practices are masked by the IOJ, by the popular narrative of all that Apple, Inc. does for consumers – increased democratization, making every consumer a producer of media, etc.
And my personal favorite (note sarcasm, please):
“We would be without a whole new way of thinking. About computers. Leadership. Business. Our very potential.”
We ARE without a whole new way of thinking. The culture has been deeply impacted by the existence of totalitarian institutions (corporations) as our dominant economic form. We are more passive, more willing to accept illegitimate authority, more willing to be competitive, to accept a model of imposed scarcity, more willing to turn our back on the needs of other people. We in the Occupy Movement sense our whole new way of thinking, our whole new potential. We can feel the emergence of what we have long repressed in ourselves. Hope. Love. Solidarity. Doing things together – being responsible for ourselves, and for one another. No one dominated, but all equally empowered, through structure. Powerful. When i have conversations with other activists i may or may not know, in other occupy movements (Boston, Riverside, san francisco), demanding greater decentralization within their own movements, greater transparency, people policing themselves and their own movements, acting collectively and responsibly, it taps into a deep joy at the possibilities long denied, and an anger for the fact that opportunity has been repressed for so long. We feel the tragedy, a deep and profound melancholy at all the time, lives, energy wasted.
Yet this is a moment of potential. and we will manage these conflicting emotions, In solidarity, with joy and revolutionary love. Don’t talk to me about being without whole new ways of thinking. The IOJ is just a slick re-packaging of the same old thing, much like the products themselves – which leads into the fourth component of IOJ.
Apple. Inc is the new face of American Capitalism, the iconic company of the ‘post-industrial’ globalized moment
So says the IOJ.
The collapse and export of the manufacturing base, and the financialization of the economy has yielded greater and greater control to a fraction of 1% of the population, namely bankers, hedge fund managers, and corporate ceo’s. For the last 30 years, real wages for working people have stagnated, or collapsed. Our military fights battles on multiple fronts in the vague and indeterminate war on terror, with no end-goals or plans for withdrawal. There is a ramping up in incarceration for the population superfluous to the creation of capital (composed mostly of the historically disenfranchised/marginalized black and brown peoples), aggravated social ills like unemployment, collapsing public education systems, and an attack/rolling back of the social safety net. Increasing instability, political divisiveness, and misplaced anger float through the society and in mainstream representation which describes our contemporary condition.
This is what has brought the occupiers to the financial district to stage their symbolic protest. Where is our hope? Why so much domestic chaos? Where lies the future of the American economy?
Capitalism answers: the ideology of Jobs. It is the the Ipad. It is in the Macbook Air. It is in the Iphone. New American products for the new American century; sleek, elegant, and well-designed. Compact. Technologically sophisticated. No one in the world makes a sexier consumer product. Apple, Inc. represents the best of American ingenuity. Apple is THE American company. We made this. American entrepreneurship and creativity is still alive.
So says the IOJ.
If we look a little closer, peel back the narrative, the real story of the American economy rests right below the surface of this sleek imagery of Apple, Inc. and its products.
I-pods, pads, and phones are not made here. Apple, Inc. exported its manufacturing base, even though they could still maintain a substantial profit by employing a domestic work force.
Apple, Inc. repackaged existing technologies and streamlined them to make them more user friendly, a program of popularization tracing back to the very founding of Apple, Inc and the public presentations by Jobs which have become so popular. The new face of American capitalism as public relations exercise; there was no real ingenuity at work, in the sense of creating something new. Steve Jobs didn’t hammer out the Ipod in his garage, but he suggested the general principles of ‘smaller, simple colors, easy to use, etc” in a meeting room, and whole TEAMS of people were tasked with engineering Apple products in a way to conform with the PR design laid out by “Jobs.”
In fact, what Apple, Inc. in fact reveals, if we dig a little below the surface, is the move from a substantial, production oriented economy to one based on image management, public relations, and sleek marketing. Apple, Inc. represents an ephemeralization, a virtualization of production, a trading of imagery signifying creativity, ingenuity and production, but lacking any substantive base. Jobs and his ‘coming out’ ceremonies of new Apple consumer products have taken on near religious importance in some circles. They represent the most novel of creations, the best we can collectively imagine, and do.
Imagery as opposed to substance. Dream as opposed to reality. There is no room for the American worker in the actual business model of Apple, Inc. There is no greater control, no increase in democratization in the Ipad that can escape the bounds set by corporate domination of the state-economic system. Apple, Inc. and its resultant products are the mask the process of deindustrialization, stratification and wealth inequality wears in order to hide the deleterious effects of contemporary globalized capital.
If this is the new American company, woe to the middle class, the unemployed, the 99 percent.
What’s happening on the streets of the ‘big apple,’ is diametrically opposed to that which is happening in media representation of Apple, Inc. Within Occupy Wall Street, and in the solidarity Occupy Movements across the country the conversation is about how to hold unaccountable, private power to account. It is a conversation about flattening hierarchies, liberating human creativity and engagement from outdated and authoritative forms. It is a conversation about deploying the full resources of the domestic and international economy for actual people’s benefit, and increasing popular participation in democracy.
The mass media view Apple, Inc. as the bigger Apple. At the very moment that the greatest challenge to the state-corporate system in decades reaches an apex of energy, the story is interrupted in order to announce the death of Steve Jobs. Tribute after tribute flows, functioning ideologically to undergird the revolutionary potential of capitalism to make people’s lives better, more just, more creatively fulfilled. We are asked to marvel at his ingenuity instead of our own. The more radial elements of the Occupy movement seem that more irrational/extreme in the light of the brilliance and achievement of “Jobs.” They don’t want a revolution, do they? But what about all that Steve Jobs has done? Doesn’t capital have the ability to be just? A systemic criticism which views Apple, Inc. and Goldman Sachs as intimately linked, collapses into an argument about good and bad apples. That’s the ideology we will confront. That’s the challenge. Wanna go on ichat to discuss it further?
List of References
(1) Zizek, S. Slavoj Zizek: First as Tragedy, Then as Farce. [Video file]. Retrieved from http://comment.rsablogs.org.uk/2010/07/29/rsa-animate-tragedy-farce/
(2) Pallota, D. (2011, Sept. 2). Steve Jobs, World’s Greatest Philanthropist [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://blogs.hbr.org/pallotta/2011/09/steve-jobs-worlds-greatest-phi.html
(3) Malone, A. and Jones, R. (2010, June 11). Revealed: Inside the Chinese suicide sweatshop where workers toil in 34-hour shifts to make your iPod. The Daily Mail. Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1285980/Revealed-Inside-Chinese-suicide-sweatshop-workers-toil-34-hour-shifts-make-iPod.html
Tim Malone is a participant of Occupy Los Angeles, an independent film-maker, and a graduate student at Claremont Graduate University. His research focuses on Anarchist Theory, Social Movements, the Prison-Industrial Complex, and Ideology. He can be reached at email@example.com