Friday, October 7, 2011

On Mourning Steve Jobs

It is sad that Steve Jobs died at 56. For me, it's sad mostly because pancreatic cancer was almost non-existent before industrialism. It is now increasingly common, and could strike any of us. It is sad for me because I have lost two loved ones to cancer in the past year, including my 28 year old cousin. I feel for those who loved Steve Jobs (those who actually knew him). But the histrionic displays of grief by those who never knew him seem wrong.

I took note yesterday, in transit from Oslo to Milan to Florence, of great numbers of people from different countries sharing music and videos and laughing together over their iPads and iPhones, while I read and wrote on my Air. It was poignant. I understand why we felt connected to Jobs and share a rare sense of community in his passing. Our hunger for community and shared grieving is immense, and found a rare outlet here. But our real wounds are quite different than the loss of a CEO. Our real grief, still deeply suppressed, is for losses far more personal and profound.

Steve Jobs was CEO of a corporation that produces vast amounts of toxic waste. He cancelled that corporation's philanthropy program in 1997 and refused to assent to Bill Gates' request that he join in pledging a good chunk of his billions to philanthropy. Many of the assembly line workers who assemble Apple's "wonderful" gadgets (which no one truly needs) are paid slave wages and develop cancers caused by the workplace carcinogens to which they are so recklessly exposed. In an era of planetary mass extinction, of unprecedented toxification of the total environment, of burgeoning fascism at home and abroad, in a world where half of humanity lives in desperate poverty while a select few (like Jobs) live securely on their backs, the maudlin outpouring of grief for this CEO is actually more than a little deranged. This is not to speak badly of a dead man. He was imperfect, as are we all. This is to urge us to consider what we really value, where our allegiances truly lie.

So, what about the 200 or so species that went extinct yesterday (200 more the day before, 200 more today, etc.)? What of the entire cultures and languages that continue to be extinguished by the onslaught of industrial capitalism? What of the brave social justice and environmental activists killed, imprisoned, and tortured daily around the globe? Or the many more killed for the crime of their poverty? Jobs didn't exactly cause this mess, but his company, despite its clean, wholesome image, has done far more to intensify it than mitigate it. Just as the Republican party channels our righteous anger (at the injustice of our culture) toward scapegoats, this outpouring of grief over Jobs is, at best, misdirected, a projection of other, deeper wounds that need to be brought to light, grieved over, and healed. At worst, it reveals our dedicated allegiance to consumerism at a historical and planetary moment when that can only be understood as treason against the world's poor and the community of life.


  1. This is beautifully and respectfully articulated. I am often aware of these sentimental displays when someone famous dies. Yes, it was tragic and very sad when Princes Diana was killed but the outpouring of grief across the globe was, I believe, a deep need in all of us to connect. The response to Steve Jobs' death, again, I think, is very much what you said - it's more about our individual suppressed grief. I appreciate this grounded, frank blog post, Mr. Levi, whoever you are.