I think everyone is taking away the wrong lessons from the death of Steve Jobs.
There’s a fair amount of armchair quarterdoctoring going on about his death, especially after some biography leaks that revealed he diddled around with alternative therapies for nine months after getting the diagnosis of his neuroendocrine pancreatic tumor. According to some folks with knowledge in the field, Jobs’ prognosis would have been close to 100% success if he’d had surgery when it was discovered – for a brutally sad explanation, go ahead and read this short piece.
Not wanting to “open himself up”, Jobs instead tried fruit juices, herbal remedies and other schemes — “some of which he found on the Internet,” according to the new biography. I don’t need to tell you, this is the kind of thing that pisses people off. It’s one thing to go holistic when you’ve got either a major annoyance (sinus infection) or a crazily-inoperable disease (brain cancer), but to let an easily-treatable issue metastasize? That shit drives folks crazy.
I don’t pass judgment on Steve Jobs because I’ve never gone through what he went through, but the idea of never having surgery strikes me as insane. If I’d followed that advice, I would have been struck down at 5 years old with my appendix bursting.
In Salon, Mary Elizabeth Williams wrote Stop Blaming Steve Jobs For His Death, which – I think – misses the point entirely. First off, it’s not exactly mean-spirited to blame Jobs for his too-early demise; it’s merely factual. The statistics don’t lie for this kind of thing. He fucked up, and people (like his wife) tried to tell him from the get-go. This isn’t a personal attack, it’s just running the numbers.
Secondly, although one could argue Steve Jobs’ surgery refusal was moronic, it is inseparable from what made him so fantastic. Why do you think this man didn’t get surgery for a very treatable disease? Because of long-held mystical beliefs and spiritual soul searching? Well, sure, but that eventually fell by the wayside and he got the surgery, albeit too late.
No, Steve Jobs opted for “natural” remedies because of his ego. He truly believed that he could outrun cancer, or that his powers of magical thinking were so great that it would somehow shrink and disappear. He was an exceptionalist; he believed the rules didn’t apply to him, and if he wanted the homeopathic remedies to work, they would jolly well work.
But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it was Jobs’ ego and hubris that allowed him the power to conjure magic, to revolutionize the way we connect with technology. It was the power of unshakable belief that created the Lime iMac, the music player without buttons, the swiping tablet that has changed the ways babies react to media. The man who demanded Barack Obama personally request to meet with him is going to change the world, and is probably going to die young because he thinks he can outwit cancer.
We only want to see the best in people, but we keep forgetting that all strong character traits have a darker side. Every tarot card has an inverse reading; not an opposite, but a different outcome based on the same attribute. We adore the parts of ourselves that may be killing us, and hate the parts that secretly keep us alive.