Friday, November 04, 2011

Apparently, some of the people's major problem with Steve Jobs is that he is not philanthropic enough.  I don't understand these people at all. If you look at some of the recent newspaper articles (links: 1, 2, 3), they insinuate a kind of general disappointment that Steve Jobs in spite of having $8.3 billion dollars has not publicly donated anything to the not-so-fortunate ones. The tone of the articles you will find is that of unmistakable whine and gossip as it heavily draws inspiration from the literary style of mediocre tabloid : "Ya know? He earned so much and never gave anything. What's he going to do with all the money? Jeez, how much does one need? Anyway, he is a genius, though." They take extra care to point out that Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Mark Zuckerberg have donated their wealth.

I am not interested in having any opinion on what Steve Jobs should have done with his excess wealth. But, what I am amused about is how we have the audacity to presume that we are somehow entitled to demand philanthropy from people. Why are we thinking he should donate some money? Just because we allowed him to get rich? Just because his fellow rich people like  Bill gates and Warren Buffet are doing it? That brings to the most interesting part of this phenomena. Most of us don't even know what Bill Gates is doing with all the charity any more than their commercials that interrupt youtube videos once in a while. Most of us don't even care how much or what charity is being done, what is the cause, who are the beneficiaries, and how effective is it? All we are interested in knowing is whether a rich dude is giving something back or not. It's all too idle, folks. Let me help you recreate the thought process in our brains:

"hmm … he made a ton of money … huh?"
"does he do any charity ? "
"oh he does … that's so sweet and humane to give it back"

And the analysis stops right there and the mind playfully meanders to curves on the pretty lady who is improving the ugly façade of the opposite Subway Sandwich Store by 890%. At best, we are just happy to know that someone is donating something to an arbitrary cause that apparently assists anonymous people who are allegedly poor. That is the maximum vagueness with which we care about the philanthropy of the super-rich. And yet, we want Mr. Steve Jobs to indulge us lest he fall prey to our instantaneous moral judgments. Doesn't this behavior seem a little queer to you?

Both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are great personal heroes of mine and not just because of their charity. They have led a life of passion, doing things that they care about and changed the landscape of our society in incredible ways and it's really unfair to compare two of the classiest entrepreneurs of our generation based on what they choose to do with their bank balance. Why can't we handle two awesome people? Why must there be a comparison always? In fact, I don't require any of my heroes to do any charity. My rule for a hero: "Charity: Optional".

The very concept of charity is itself very interesting - especially because the motives behind it are not that obvious.  I sincerely admire what the likes of Bill Gates are doing because he not only gave the money but also gets to carefully oversee the effort and I feel that is awesome. For those who cannot monitor to that detail, even if a lot of us care about doing something in the world, many studies also repeatedly question the effectiveness of charity. For example, Linda Polman in her book "The Crisis Caravan: What's wrong with the Humanitarian Aid" explains how the grassroots delivery of charity is extremely compromised because of the rampant theft and corruption among the warlords in a poverty-stricken areas like Somalia and Haiti. She also provokes us to question the aid organizations and their ability to do what they claim. May be a whole bunch of us are donating just to feel good and not bother if there is any real change. Not surprisingly, much of that money ends up in political campaigns rather any serious social changes. All this should evoke a serious debate on the idea of charity itself. Just blindly thinking that charity is an absolute awesome deed is one of debatable myths of our generation. Also, who says that charity must come in certain forms like giving aid to the impoverished? Never forget that one of the main engines of corruption, theft and exploitation in the global economic network relies on middle class's ambition and consumerism itself. So, if you can help the middle-class understand the ecological footprints because of their lifestyle - that's great charity too, according to me. Why?, the rapid rise of cell phone industry is funding a civil war in Congo - the bloodiest since world war 2. When we change our smart-ass phones every 2 months, we got blood on our hands. As you can see, how the economics is tied to exploitation is more complex than you think. We have got to be careful when we wax judgmental on other people.

Here was a guy who relentlessly created one of the iconic and charming companies of our generation blending beauty with technology. He propelled our species to quickly evolve from being a soda-sipping primate to a gizmo-groping primate. He helped disrupt and revitalize established industries like music, cell-phone, PC, computer animation, gaming etc. with magnificent  technology and tasteful product design there by, creating millions of jobs and billions of dollars worth of wealth creation. And somehow, that's not enough service to humanity? Is this how we are treating our geniuses?

Of course, I never bought any of the apple products. And, for 2 major reasons: (1) the incorrigible behavior of my fellow chappies who couldn't have an adult conversation without mentioning their latest apple gadget repeatedly pricked my tender heart with fears of belonging to the phoniest club on the planet that considered shopping and swiping a credit-card as an achievement in life; (2) the products were mercilessly priced for a modest graduate school stipend paycheck. Yet, Steve Jobs is one of my greatest heroes for he spent his life reinventing himself  to create one innovation after another. All in all, here's your takeaway point: If my life can teach something, it's that you can be inspired without spending a dime.
R.I.P., Mr. Steve Jobs.
FLAWSOPHY salutes you.


Nikhil said...

Nice one..precisely and concisely written..reminds me what is written in Scripture Sri Bhagvad Geeta that Charity is also of three kinds-Sattvic,Rajshik and Tamsik.

Sash! said...

Thanks, Nikhil ... it is indeed true that there are many forms of charity and we do it to each other everyday of our life but somehow, we think that only a certain kinds are worthy. I think the greatest charity is to help strength the self-respect of the middle class along with empowerment of the impoverished !!!

akshay surendra said...

A very lucid article, but misinterprets the reason why some advocate Jobs' lack of charity. Jobs hides his overly priced gadgets in a shroud of quality/brand/phenomenon. So he's actually stimulating a trend that encourages the middle class to reach for affluence (good) through hollow means(-like getting an iPad, not so good!) So he assuages his guilt with the conviction that he's helping people realize their dreams (the dreams he planted in their heads!)
On the flip side, I agree philanthropy is not a compulsion and as an innovator/manipulator Jobs was a great man.
BUT, morality should figure somewhere right?

Sash! said...

@akshay: wow ... no no ... i doubt if steve jobs is guilt-ridden nor did he think of "helping people realize their dreams". The whole complaint in the first place was that he isn't about helping anyone :)

... he was focused about creating a good product which he could over-price. that's all ... the choice is left to people to buy it or not ... isn't it?

why is it that we demand certain ways of helping people (like direct philanthropy/charity) more worthier / moral than the rest while the evidence of such an assumption is completely dicey ... that is my central question in the article

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