Did Steve Jobs approve of Ayn Rand?

 Atlas shrugging

According to some people, Steve Jobs was a maniacal business man: he was someone who treated his employees like chattel and mistreated his supposed inferiors.

To others, he was the apotheosis of everything digital: a man who ushered in 22st century digitized items to a 20thcentury hoi polloi; the same crowd sees Jobs as a man who, continually, saw around the bend of every technological corner.

Yet others, and I find myself in this crowd, saw Jobs as the epitome of the perfection-seeking designer; in point of fact, perfection, in his mind, meant that, as an iron-clad rule, corners should never be cut when crafting a consumable and usable work of art; the inner workings, or the hardware, of the iPod, the iPad, the Mac II, and the Macintosh were just as important as the software or user interface of the aforementioned products. In other words, the guts had to be just as beautiful and sonorous as the fleshy outer package. If the inside of the iMac was trashy, if its motherboard was cluttered, if its inner-workings were mangled then the entire product was, as Jobs would say, “sh*t.”  If it was not a perfectly clean, entirely smooth, completely streamlined and mechanically sharp, bereft of any and all superfluous trinkets, then the, to all other eyes, technologically mastered product had to be tabled and reconstructed to fit those, and Jobs’, detailed specifications.

The perfection in detail necessitated Job’s ownership of the objects he and his Apple, NeXt and Pixar employees imbued with detail. Never would he abjure or recant any of the technology or products that his companies were creating. The items were his products and his products alone. The fact that he rebuked the idea of an open system (or “fragmented systems” as Steve Jobs called them) — whereby computer applications are opened to a variety of corporations and companies to create, which, theoretically anyway, ultimately gives consumers the option to choose from a myriad of different applications — clearly exemplifies his wont for the creation to be his. He thought that open systems would sully his brand, eat away at his creation and ultimately create confusion for the consumer.

But, more than anything else open systems were an affront on his product: whether it was the iMac or iPod, it was a nearly-perfect product that could not be further perfected, unless the one doing the perfecting was Jobs himself. The buyers, those who have become diehard Mac patrons, would have to acquiesce to Mac’s designing prowess, which they have.

His avid and dogged determination to construct, design and distribute a seemingly flawless product (a piece of art) that was his and only his, and could never be desecrated by the likes of Android or IBM, was, for Jobs, the epitome of self-satisfaction and self-recognition. With that, it is also important to note that his Mac was his child, his soul, his mind and his being. Sullying that product by allowing others to tack on, tinker with and piece together applications through an open system would entail asking Jobs and Mac, his creation, to fork over his baby, vitiate his soul, his mind and his being. Asking Jobs, at least in his eyes, to erode his creation was akin to asking him to extirpate his soul. Suffice it say, Jobs had his eccentricities.

The polemical novel writing philosopher, Ayn Rand, was the progenitor of Objectivism: its primary tenants suggest that there is an objective reality that exists outside of one’s consciousness, that one can obtain knowledge through reason in conjunction with observable experiences, that the moral purpose of one’s own life is the pursuit of happiness, and that the above mentioned tenants could only come about through the full, unadulterated, respect for individual right. These tenants were, in her eyes, impeachable and not up for dispute. Individuals acting on their own free will, actualizing their mind’s creations — to Rand that meant her novels and to Jobs that meant his digital products — without the privations of others was The reason why human beings lived. Once again, asking them to curve their mind’s creation, water down their designs and supplicate themselves to someone else’s will is tantamount to asking them to destroy everything that they feel is right, moral and just.

Indeed, Rand would have no doubt considered Steve Jobs the real-life version of Howard Roark or Henry Reardon, both were pivotal protagonists in two of Rand’s novels. Jobs was, like the protagonists in Rand’s novels, a self-driven entrepreneur who derived a great deal of his ambition from a recognition of his dexterity and skill at honing in on what society needed; it all emanated from his supreme confidence that he knew, irrefutably, when and where the bend in the technological road would start. His primer was not the monetization of his honing skills, but rather the ability to actualize that honing ability and vision of the future.

Rand wrote with a scalpel’s knife; every single word, every sentence, every paragraph, every page and every chapter meant something. Her writing, like Jobs’ designs, was her brain child, her art, her creation; so she put as much thought and dedication into each syllable and adjective as was necessary in order to properly communicate her message. If a phrase did not work, if a sentence seemed muddled, then the entire page or, worse, chapter was scraped and redone. It had to be perfect. If the pre-edited product was on paper, it stayed. She went through several well-meaning editors throughout her writing career who, because of the rationing of paper by the US government during the 1930s and early 1940s,  simply wanted to save on paper (her novels were quite lengthy, Atlas Shrugged is more than a thousand pages long). But any cuts of important text (all of it was important to her) transformed the novel from a labor of love to a labor of toil for someone else; it went from being her work to being someone else’s, and she could not, nor would she, abide by that.

The similarities between Rand and Jobs’s principles and philosophy do not stop at the diligence with which they used to produce paradigm shifting ideas and technologies. They both had a unique way to express affection and love. The Objectivist view of love, something for which Ayn Rand explains ad nauseum in Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, is technical and involves, principally, the conditionality of love. Love is, according to Rand and her followers, conditional in that it revolves around a man or woman choosing his or her mate based upon the mirrored images of their respective selves. Objectivists do not love for love’s sake. They, theoretically of course, find a mate that mirrors the perfection that they see in themselves. In other words, they cannot love another without first loving themselves. Reciprocity, according to Rand and her objectives, is the key in a loving relationship.  For example, Paul loves and recognizes his talents for fine music, a gifted golf swing, and his sense of human compassion; he loves himself, rather than hating himself. Likewise, he finds Gwen who also loves and recognizes her ability to craft lovely poems, her kindness and open-minded demeanor and her talents for teaching youth. She, like Paul, loves herself, rather than hating herself. They love what is good in each other. What was abhorrent to Rand, and to most Objectivists — and possibly even to Jobs, even though there is no evidence supporting this — is when a self-loathing, self-hater demands love from another person. What is worse, when the person being asked to love the self-hater forfeits his or her love for the self-hater; the giver sacrifices his or her love out of pity for the self-hater. The demands given by the self-hater abdicates any and all reciprocity.

Keeping the abovementioned information as context, let me shift to a Rand example of Objectivist love taken from her magnum opus Atlas Shrugged. One of the main protagonists in the book, Hank Reardon, a railroad steel producer who has a maniacal desire to create a new, high-grade, powerful steel compound, gave a bracelet made out of Reardon’s steel to his wife, Lilian Reardon. The steel bracelet represented a composite of all of the great qualities that he saw in himself. He gave her something (a steel bracelet) that meant a lot to him, not something (a gold bracelet enshrined with diamonds) that might meant a lot to her. She looked askance at his gift and chided him for the prosaic nature of the present.

Steve Jobs, like the fictional Hank Reardon, had the same gift giving proclivities, it appears. Jobs met and had a dalliance with folksinger Joan Baez during the early part of 1982. He apparently was smitten with her intelligence, sense of humor and grace, while she was attracted to his drive, complexity and minimalist philosophy.  He, according to Walter Isaacson’s biography on Jobs, in a playful manner, made fun of Baez for her continued use of a typewriter during the age of the personal computer. In order to rectify her antediluvian nature, he hand delivered to Baez a top of the line Macintosh computer and proceeded to spend several hours teaching her how to use it, but to no avail. She thought the exposition was sweet and cute, but also quite awkward and off-putting. She had no use for computers and considered them to be foreign objects.

Jobs was not always beneficent with his gift giving; in fact, he was a bit of an outsider when it came to showing affection through material objects. To wit, Jobs was a multimillionaire and Baez was a famous musician during their courtship, so either one of them could afford nearly anything that was within their eyeshot. One day during a dinner party he started talking about a beautiful dress that he saw at a Ralph Lauren shop that he thought she might like. Baez, according to Isaacson, recalled, “I said to myself, far out, terrific, I’m with one of the world’s richest men and he wants me to have this beautiful dress.” However, when they got to the store she was shocked to see Jobs buy several shirts for himself and ask her if she planned on buying the dress. She said that she did not have the money for it, so they left and never went back. She still, to this day, wonders why he harped on the dress for so long yet never thought to buy it for her. The night will forever be known, to Baez anyway, as the night of the “mystery dress.”  He could have bought her anything she wanted, yet he chose to buy her something that he wanted for her.

I was flipping through the channels the night the media publicly announced Jobs’ death, when I happened upon Jobs’ aid-de-camp, Steve Wozniak, who mentioned something that piqued my interest. He said that Steve was, during his college years, heavily influence by the writings and musings of Ayn Rand. It never occurred to me that Jobs and Rand would have such a connection, but, indeed, as posited above, there does seem to be at least some merit to Wozniak’s assertion. Jobs may not have been a Randian or an Objectivist, but he did seem to have some sort of unique philosophical kinship to both the woman and her ideas. I guess we will have to wait until a biography comes out laying out a direct expositional tie between Steve Jobs and Objectivism. I will be waiting on pins and needles.

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