I’m still busy with outdoor chores – now need to winterize my place, but earlier today I tried unsuccessfully to post a comment at an excellent tribute to Steve Jobs, (an excellent site for other reasons also). I recommend both the tribute to Jobs, and the website itself, created by a thoughtful economist, Tom Osenton.
The site is a ‘blogspot’ site, “people’s economist”, by Tom Osenton. I’ve had trouble trying to post comments at blogspot sites before. There’s no ‘guest’ post option. I’m informed I can post via an identity from a drop-down list. The only category I fit is ‘wordpress’, but I end up being told I “don’t own the page”. A Big Question, related to Job’s remarkable success, has been on my mind – so I post my thoughts here:
I think Steve Jobs life’s work was truly remarkable – visionary and
powerfully influential. But something in me won’t let me dismiss slave conditions for Chinese workers in an i-phone factory – conditions made known several years ago, but so far as I know remain largely unaddressed. There are other global ‘misery spots’ related to electronics. I do believe Steve Jobs was a good guy, heart and mind, by intent and general delivery. But how does one of the greatest good guys head a company that benefits from slavery? I think it’s inherent in the system – the merciless competitive behaviors required to maintain profit, and the equally merciless related need to grow. I think we, as a people, would be wise to give thought to this. Largely because Steve Jobs was such a good guy, there is, for me, a Faustian tragedy in how his genius played out.
What is tragic about the ‘trade-off’ (accepting slave work as part of profit need) made by a company run by Steve Jobs, is that this is “so” not in the spirit of Steve Jobs the person!
And yet, and yet …!
I am by no means the first to observe that the expansionist capitalist system of economic success forces corporate heads, and all who work for them, to set aside ethics for sake of profit. I believe Karl Marx, or at least Marxian analysis, says the same thing. (See 11 min RSA animated review of dominant economic conditions as given by David Harvey.)
I’ve said before, possibly here and certainly elsewhere, that “humanity has run into a wall of its own making”. Expansionist capitalism certainly appears to have brought many benefits to many people, including improved quality of life. It also has, from start to finish, been unable to accomplish this without finding some way to curtail operating expenses. This has usually meant disregard for damage to earth, disregard for worker quality of life, and even disregard for customer quality of life. There is nearly always a location somewhere that is either ‘legally’ slavery, or slavery in all but ‘legal’ name. Until current global communication abilities, it’s been easier for dominant groups of capitalist beneficiaries to speak of justice, compassion, and “a good life”, while blithely unaware of distant or hidden suffering that’s directly caused by the “style” of “progress”, (i.e. expansionist capitalism.)
It’s tricky to find such history neatly packaged* outside “leftist” sources – sources which immediately cause many Americans to remember growing up with “better dead than Red” as mantra. If they’re too young to remember, they have other mantras, learned over their formative years: “Don’t even get close to ‘socialist’ thinking – it’s pure evil”, (“common weal” as emphasized by America’s founders escapes their notice.) *Re ‘neatly packaged’ history of problems built into expansionist capitalism, see “We Can No Longer Afford Vulture Capitalism”, Norman D. Livergood. I’ve not researched the book sufficiently to know if it’s my ‘top’ recommendation. Will do follow-up and may provide several more links. I want a fairly concise ‘package’, the “Vulture Capitalism” link has additional tabs providing background information. (Later – see notes below my signature on author Livergood.)
My point is not to “pit capitalism against socialism”. My point, if I wanted a debate, would be to pit ‘consequences of expansionist capitalism’s aggressive, dog-eat-dog competitiveness‘ against ‘consequences of an economic system that honors individual talent/voice in the spirit of democratic cooperation‘. So far, democratic countries with more ‘socialist tendencies’ have come out ahead in quality of life. But they, also, harbor huge international expansionist capitalist corporations. So they, also, need to address 21st Century promise with shifts in economic practices – shifts that may appear radical.
Luckily for us humans, we’ve got more inborn traits than aggressive dog-eat-dog behaviors to demonstrate. We’ve got inborn wish to cooperate in human community, and we’ve got empathy. If we support these more compassionate traits, and down-play or appropriately manage our adrenalin-driven aggression, we might finally produce a truly improved world! (See RSA 11 minute animation: “The Empathic Civilization”, Jeremy Rifkin.)
The Faustian tragedy is not a tragedy of the individual, Steve Jobs, (except in so far as he may have wrestled with the bargain he struck to climb to success). In a deeply irremediable way, such bargains are ‘inevitable’ under current dominant economic systems. The Faustian tragedy is a tragedy of humanity itself – we collectively have accepted a bargain promising “success” as delivered through fierce competition; “benevolent cooperation be damned”. By “exclusive group” ‘community’ thinking, (me and mine vs them and theirs), we’ve limited our innate wish to experience support from, and offer support to, our ‘species’ community. The problem with ‘exclusion’ while reaching for “our best human promise” – is – well – that it can’t be “our human promise” and an “exclusive; us/them” at the same time!
My Best! –MaggieAnn
A: Re slavery worker conditions specific to our high tech pleasures, see also “Microsoft buys Skype, May 2011″)
B: General Notes on my post above:
(1) Re: Image above: “Wired” magazine cover and article “Is Apple Evil”, John Hudson, February 2011. Atlantic Wire summarizes two ‘opposing’ points of view from other sources and asks about Apple Corporation’s guilt. The brief Atlantic Wire article would suggest “it’s not so bad”; reader comments add more in-depth awareness. No escaping it, when and where possible, slave conditions prevail – if improved by Apple, then it’s happening elsewhere.
(2) Read “Qualitative Revolution” , an article Tom Osenton posted on October 3rd. Osenton speaks to a world that must now take clear, unequivocal, and globally aware responsibility for earth and life care. He’s written a book: “The New American Dream: The coming shift of quality of life over quality of life”, (linked at website). Applied universally, to all humanity, the concept may be the paradigm that saves our species!)
(3) Re Norman Livergood’s “Vulture Capitalism …”, and the possibility he may lean into the ‘conspiracy camp’. My take? – He has something to offer, here are my thoughts: I’ve still more research to do, but the book’s cover all by itself is informative and generally an accurate visual to how things turn out for society when the ‘progress engine’ is expansionist capitalism. In checking tabs at the link for the book, I learned Mr. Livergood has excellent, broad-based, academic study in his background. The kinds of studies that allow the mind to explore, to consider ‘how society works for real people’, and to connect important dots. I suspect I agree with him on much. I also learned he may ‘overplay’ the notion of ‘conspiracy’ for my tastes, but given my very brief glance at the material, I can only guess at this. // My personal take on ‘who is power-running the economic show, how they’re doing it, and why’ has stopped short of ‘conspiracy’. I’m rather of the view that some ‘subcultures’, in this case the ‘elite of the elite’, are so deeply captured by their world view that they are profoundly ignorant, a condition that rules out a fully calculated conspiracy to do harm. I think some genuinely believe that what harm they cause ‘must happen’ or things will be even worse (and mean it as best they can when they say collateral suffering is ‘unfortunate’) – or their world view is so corrupt that they have lost touch with their own innate humanity, in which case, “reasoning” with them will have little effect, as they won’t be able to ‘hear’. To really analyze the elite of the elite, and their constant calculations to acquire and/or maintain power and privileged, would take at least one good sized book. // I personally suspect any ‘conspiracy’ is more a matter of the elite subculture ‘shared world view’. They can speak to one another about making sure ‘the great unwashed’ don’t get control – and I think they do – and I think that is what the rest of us call ‘conspiracy’. // In any case, I’ve explored some of the ‘economic conspiracy’ arguments. Most of them are backed up with historical documents revealing comments made by powerful people in non-public gatherings. I ‘ride the ride’ of conspiracy arguments without making ‘conspiracy’ my primary “fight”. It’s interesting to me that in the last several years I’ve heard more non-conspiracy thinkers cite some of the same details of history as do the conspiracy thinkers. The difference is in the ‘hype’ and emotion that usually goes along with accusations of conspiracy. Quite a lot of the evidence is shared. (IMO). // I’ve not fully explored Livergood; his theme and style may be more ‘hyped’ than I might usually recommend. With that cautionary note (based, I emphasize, on my not having checked out the book!), I think Livergood’s book might be a very good place to do some eye-brow and righteous indignation raising reading! I anticipate he gives examples and cites sources to back up what he may say.
(3) Livergood may describe expansionist capitalism’s excesses and built-in structural flaws. Osenton’s “New American Dream, … shift to qualitative…” might help us realize that core change takes a change in world view for all of us, not ‘just’ the elite of the elite. The elite, after all, could never have achieved their dominance if we’d not turned into ‘consumers’ and chased ‘quantity’ for the last 50 years or so. If we had been ‘awake’ after WW2, especially after we’d figured out the motivations that got us into Vietnam, we’d perhaps have been more reluctant at the ‘convenience’ of credit cards when they were introduced – but they were cleverly marketed, and we enjoyed the schmooze!
(5) For readers who want less hype than may be in Livergood’s book, I recommend Noam Chomsky – as much of him as you’ve time to read, as many lectures on YouTube as you’ve time to take in. There are many, many analytical thinkers who know the ‘warts’ of our economic system very well and have spoken and written on its modern form for many decades. I heartily recommend the economic, social, and political references in my blog roll.