Observing the sudden outpouring of sentimentalism, there is no doubt that the passing of Steve Jobs has struck a chord in our collective commodity fetish...
Steve Jobs... was the man who offered the bourgeois intelligentsia of the West a way to keep consuming while still being able to hold on to the illusion of being a hippie. In the process, Jobs took our age-old commodity fetish to a whole new level...
Wielding an iPhone was no longer just a matter of utility or an affirmation of status — it became an act of rebellion. Against what, nobody knew. But “thinking different” felt great.
No obituary better exemplified this idolatry than the one in the Economist.
Aptly branding him “The Magician”, the paragon of free-market ideology celebrated Jobs as a “man who liked to see himself as a hippie, permanently in revolt against big companies,” but who “ended up being hailed by many of those corporate giants as one of the greatest chief executives of all time"...
Apple is now the biggest publicly traded company in the world. But what does this mean?
Is Apple really representative of a new era in human history? Or is it just the same wine in a slightly fancier bottle? Does Apple really hover in some kind of post-material, post-industrial universe? Or are we deluding ourselves into thinking that capitalism took a major turn for the better, and progressive business has set us free from the scourges of Dickensian industrialism?
Well, as an answer to that question... perhaps we should consider the following — all taken from headlines in the Guardian over the past year or so:
• Apple’s Chinese workers treated “inhumanely, like machines”
• Apple report reveals child labour increase
• Apple’s annual report says 91 children worked at its suppliers in 2010, and 137 workers were poisoned by n-hexane
• Apple named “least green” tech company
• Greenpeace report puts Apple at bottom of green league table due to reliance on coal at data centres
• Apple says it has never tracked the locations of iPhones and iPads, but admits a software fault means data is still sent to the company...
Once we see all the uncritical admiration of Steve Jobs in this context, it becomes obvious to what extent our minds are still perverted by the commodity fetish.
As Marx put it in Capital, “commodity appears at first sight an extremely obvious, trivial thing. But its analysis brings out that it is a very strange thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties.” David Harvey explained the phenomenon as follows:
“The advent of a money economy, Marx argues, dissolves the bonds and relations that make up ‘traditional‚‘ communities so that ‘money becomes the real community’.
“We move from a social condition, in which we depend directly on those we know personally, to one in which we depend on impersonal and objective relations with others... Money and market exchange draws a veil over, ‘masks’ social relationships between things. This condition Marx calls ‘the fetishism of commodities’.”
When we walk into an iStore, what we see is a “sexy little machine”‚ not a product that was created by the toiling labour of Chinese children working 80 hours a week for $1 per hour while being poisoned with chemicals and seeing their environment deteriorate around them.
Steve Jobs (1955-2011), founder and long-time CEO of Apple, Inc., passed away today at the age of 56. He is survived by a net worth of $8.3 billion and the largest publicly traded company in the world. May he rest in peace.
• Abridged from roarmag.org