Steve Jobs, Death and the Ethics of Enlightenment

As someone who followed the development of bright intellectuals and successful entrepreneurs throughout graduate school for inspiration, the death of Steve Jobs is a great loss. Putting aside the problems I may have with the way Apple exploits foreign workers (especially in East Asia) in order to provide gadgets for spoiled customers, Jobs was a brilliant man who–like most other visionaries–was at the right place and right time. I say this not to express meaningless niceties about a deceased billionaire. But rather because throughout some of my darkest hours I listened or read about Steve Jobs to uplift myself. And most importantly, the man knew misfortune and death, as well as its power to invigorate life. The challenges of adoption, the ostensible betrayal of job termination from the company he created, and a long struggle against pancreatic cancer, did not stop him from becoming a man of exceptional success and wisdom, who caused others to gain success (and in perhaps wisdom!). Coming close to death many years ago, he states in his famous Stanford address,

‎”Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool 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. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

Irrespective of the simple good vs. bad arguments, I think of Jobs as an enlightenment figure in our less than perfect globalized world, and an innovator not unlike Tesla, Davinci, Avicenna and Ptolemy. Their technical, artistic and intellectual work contributed great lakes to the ocean of human civilization. Perhaps we can learn not to let our love for iPhones blind us from the immediacy of death and the ethics of enlightenment.


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