A decade or so ago I learned that no one is irreplaceable, regardless of their talents, native abilities, passions, certainly not in something as prosaic as a business organization, or as it turns out, in a political system, not even in the art world.
But this morning that day-in and day-out truth seems so hard to bear. There is such a haze of loss I’m fighting today over the news of the death of Steve Jobs.
Separating yourself from the idea of ‘the irreplaceable’ is not to say that some lives, Steve’s in particular, do not have overwhelming impact, that they are not filled with extraordinary meaning. On the contrary, it’s just the opposite. The individual, driven by nothing more than passion, utilizing the talents they have, and the ones they’ve developed, applying them against the vagaries of the world around them, this is the base of a society many of us still believe in; one founded on individuals, not on the collective, one that grows through personal responsibility, not through entitlements, that becomes better through commitment and a drive to “Stay hungry. Stay foolish,” as Steve said, and to hell with the institutional oppressors that tell you to, “get back in line.”
I’m sorry if this seems like an overtly political statement at the time of one man’s death, but I’m not sure how else to deal with the news of his passing, this man just a few years older than me, while I’m reading about it on the tech devices he made possible, over the networks he made usable, on the applications that he demanded were designed to allow me to focus on ideas and not on production. What tinges the air with political tonality today, the way Charles Baxter and John Barth used to say the air of the prior generation was tinged with the smell of Berkley tear gas, vintage 1968, is that on a day when organized labor (or more precisely, the most radicalized few unions of the worst of organized labor) co-opted the Occupy Wall Street kids — a frustratingly dysfunctional narrative of a protest so hollow of purpose and void of meaning that it makes the Obama presidential campaign of 2008 look like a paragon of forthright honesty — we are struck flush with the contrast of what Jobs created versus the vapidity of ideas put forward by the American political left.
Here’s the contrast: Maker vs obscurer. Creator vs sneak. The comparison could not be more stark.
To be clear, the Left, weakened and globally dispirited over the failure of their philosophical underpinnings, seems to have adopted the idea of Baxter’s dysfunctional narrative (tell them nothing of substance, just tether your programs to their emotions – rely on the empty vessel message of Hope and Change, bear no responsibility for outcomes) and they’ve done it lock, stock, and barrel.
Sure, people are showing up at Occupy Wall Street rallies, not many, but more than one would expect. I listened to the kids in the NYU library talk about it yesterday. It was clear they had no idea they were supporting union teachers making a hundred thousand dollars a year while failing at their basic function of educating children, or municipal unions who are driving our debt to Greek-like levels while delivering fewer and fewer service in exchange for enormous payments built into no-compete, no-fire contracts. They are mad, the kids, they are visibly upset. I’m mad about these things too, and by not having an agenda, the organizers of #OccupyWallStreet can feed off the accumulated anger in our country without coming clean about what they really stand for, in other words, by not telling the truth. You can’t get away with that BS when you are cutting code, or running a technological revolution. That way leads to failure.
So I look at today with great sadness. We’ve lost a man who delivered over and over again brilliance, concrete substance; he made real the visions of technology engineers. He demanded success and excellence and he got it. Sure there were setbacks, some full on failures. The obituaries today brought back pictures of Lisas and Newtons, hunks of plastic we all would like to forget, and who wants to live through MobileMe again? And there is a good argument to be made about just how beneficial all this technology and real-time connectivity is for us anyway, and no one can type on an Apple and not worry about the abuse of human rights by the Communist Chinese government which has become rich from offshored manufacturing practices promoted by our government and utilized by Apple.
But still, the triumph of the individual will versus the false hidden ideals of failed European Theory — the builders vs the destroyers? This is the story of today.
So is he really irreplaceable? All the articles today said so. We better hope not. And my answer is: No, not yet, not irreplaceable, even though collectivists and govermentalists want to make people like Steve Jobs disappear, because they are unique and special and an argument against everything they stand for, still more will come. An organization, an industry, will be different without him, but the political fight we are in today is all about making sure that there can be a tomorrow filled with more people like Steve Jobs. That’s what this is all about.
So go Occupy that.
“We think the Mac will sell zillions, but we didn’t build the Mac for anybody else. We built it for ourselves. We were the group of people who were going to judge whether it was great or not. We weren’t going to go out and do market research. We just wanted to build the best thing we could build.”
Steve Jobs, 1985