Friday, October 07, 2011

The new is you

Eulogies about Steve Jobs are pouring in. Because we reside in a hitech civilization, and Jobs was one of the architects of our hitech civilization, that made him a pop icon. In addition, it simplifies life to make certain individuals symbolize an idea, epoch, or movement.

I also think part of his appeal lies in the fact that he represents the antithesis of the Nannystate. He was the classic American inventor, risk-taker, and self-made man. An underdog who made it to the top, without affirmative action. Whatever his politics, he was the anti-Obama.

However, the death of a celebrity has no more inherent significance that the death of a stranger. Although his life may be more consequential, his death is no more consequential than the next guy’s.

Jobs’ death doesn’t mean anything to me personally. He’s just another famous guy who died.  There’s a long list.

Jobs’ had a worldview. In a sense, he wrote his own epitaph:

Among other things he said:

Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college, but it was very, very clear looking backwards 10 years later. Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backwards, so you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.

Taken by itself, that’s an excellent statement of divine providence. Something a Christian could say. Something a Christian should say. Unfortunately, he doesn’t leave it at that:

You have to trust in something--your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever--because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well-worn path, and that will make all the difference.

That’s just a trite statement about cause and effect. One thing leads to another. But there’s no direction.

Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work, and the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking, and don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it, and like any great relationship it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking. Don't settle.

That’s easy to tell the graduating class of Stanford. That’s easy to say if you have Jobs’ sheer talent.

But most folks don’t have boundless opportunities. Most folks can’t afford to quit their boring job and pursue their dreams. They have to settle. They have to cope. So a better question is how to have a fulfilling, satisfying life if you have to settle. How to deal with frustration. Lowered expectations.

Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important thing I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life, because almost everything--all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure--these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked.

Taken by itself, that’s an excellent perspective on life. Something a Christian could say. Something a Christian should say. Unfortunately, he doesn’t leave it at that:

This was the closest I've been to facing death, and I hope it's the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept. No one wants to die, even people who want to go to Heaven don't want to die to get there, and yet, death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It's life's change agent; it clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now, the new is you. But someday, not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it's quite true. Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice, heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

This is true and false in equal parts. Despite the line about not living with results of other folks’s thinking, that’s exactly what Jobs is parroting. He hasn’t said anything original here. Rather, he’s trapped by secular dogma. This life is all you get. One throw of the dice–win or lose.

Moreover, his conclusion contradicts his premise. To say death “clears out the old to make way for the new” is just a picturesque way of saying the younger generation replaces the older generation. But believing that you and I are replaceable parts in the grand scheme of things is a logical recipe for utter futility. Why bother? Why make the most of life if that’s zeroed out at death?

Yes, others may benefit from what you did, but you will not. Moreover, the future beneficiaries will be zeroed out when they die too.


  1. "I also think part of his appeal lies in the fact that he represents the antithesis of the Nannystate."

    Ironic considering the systems he built have had more draconian aspects and less customization/freedom of use than the competition.

  2. Spoken like a true irrationalist. It's a good thing for the Amalakites that Jobs didn 't think it best to destroy them and all their substance.

    In Christ,