In Lieu of Flowers, Send Thanks
Where there is no vision, the people perish: Proverbs 29:18
It’s not surprising that Steve Jobs remains in the news weeks after his death. He and the companies he created, Apple and Pixar have had a profound impact on American culture and world technology. In this show I pay homage to his impact on the development of personal computer technology through my personal experiences in teaching, media creation and computer technology.
While I have a lot to say about Apple computer, I didn’t talk too much about Jobs himself. As I say in the show, I didn’t know him, or anyone who did and despite all the media play on his actions throughout the decades I’m certain there’s a lot about his life and his personality that has never made it to the public because of the way he carefully guarded his personal life.
Recently I watched a PBS documentary, “The Trials of Oppenheimer” which presented Robert Oppenheimer’s life. in particular the film focused on the period that he ran the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, New Mexico during WW2 and the decade following where he ran afoul of McCarthyism and the Red Scare.
The bio didn’t whitewash his personality. Many sources, living and dead agreed he was a charming, but deadly cruel person who used his brilliant, creative mind to control people through callous arrogant behavior. But he was also a man who rose to the occasion and was able to corral and motivate a wide array of equally brilliant and difficult scientists to work together and create something new, the atomic bomb, in an amazingly short time.
A smart, super smart, brilliant, genius. The Genius label usually gets attached in retrospect, often tied to a specific achievement but ultimately covering the whole person like a white shroud. This shroud is a benevolent but numbing generalization that makes it difficult to see the details beneath that makes the person human, fallible. And then when they fall from grace they the people are surprised and disappointed by the reality that was hidden in full view.
We just don’t like our geniuses to stand apart from the rest of humanity, though it seems that’s how they start out. A person needs to have a powerful faith in their vision to sustain themselves against the corrosive effects of the status quo. The change they bring always seems dramatic and somehow wrong because of the persistent resistance society exerts to keep things as they are. Having to face this on a daily basis, it’s no wonder that geniuses develop stunted social skills and arrogant, impatient attitudes toward those who misunderstand them and their vision. If you spent your entire life trying to sell an idea that has consistently been negated, condescended, poo pooed, belittled etc., you’d become a little cranky yourself.
Even Einstein, who cultivated a docile, often comical public personality was no Prince Charming. He had angry and indifferent relationships with family, loved ones and colleagues. Pick any other genius you like and decide for yourself if I’m right or not.
Of course every genius is unique, as we all are. No doubt there are many who are not bitter misogynists. And I don’t deny the acclaim that they’ve gained through their achievements. I just think we do ourselves, and them a disservice by pretending that they are separate from the rest of humanity. They are neither terrible nor wonderful. If we can understand that, we can accept that each one of us has the potential for genius in some fashion, even if it goes unrecognized.