Friday, October 7, 2011

Sustainability and Chinese Existentialism – Steve Jobs and Andy Rooney

My writings are often confused, disjointed opinions to deal with an incomprehensible world.

Amongst the discombobulated thoughts and pontification of flatters for no one, I find some clarity – enough to see where I have gone wrong and where I need adjusting because my information is incomplete and my style immature. So I keep writing a blog that is scantly visited not for you to see, but for me to learn. Maybe I am attempting to reach the impossible and prove Gödel wrong, but I figure today I have better things to do than to fly with my cape on. Today I must write to remember a week of passing of the Age.

Andy Rooney gave his last commentary on 60 Minutes this week. He signed off unapologetically; he will be back soon to tell us the things we don’t want to hear but love to listen. It was sad and at least nostalgic by representation. I hope Mr. Rooney the best and that he enjoy retirement to the fullest extent. Come back and visit with us soon.

Steve Jobs passed this week. I’m afraid he forever won’t be coming back in his jeans and turtleneck to deliver another paradigmatic surprise. I still have yet to comprehend how to feel about this – are we sure this isn’t some badly publicized media stunt for the next iGadget? I have the urge to believe he will again surface on stage, next to his chair and coffee table, playing with whatever is the next thing that we absolutely need.

Ironically, I remember Mr. Rooney making a comment about the one typewriter he owned as a writer and the many computers he had to buy in his later years in the profession. I got to think about the impact on resources, the environment, and our way of culture and social rights in light of our economy of gadgets, in light of Mr. Jobs passing. I asked myself if the world would’ve been a very different place if we did not have some of the inventions or if we did not misuse these inventions. The atomic bomb is the obvious token, but has many of us really questioned the impact of a ever demanding and short lifespan of our electronic product consumption – our iNeeds?

Are five laptops with toxic chemicals and rare metals that plugs into a dirty power-grid really better than one typewriter faithfully challenging our intellectual skills?

Sure, having the world-wide-web made less demands on our efforts to learn, but looking at facebook, are we faithfully learning as we should be or are we wasting away our time with Angry Birds?

I am guilty of this unquestioned loyalty to consumerism, I have a Circus on my phone that sells digital balloons to the microprocessor that is running the thing I call a phone. I plug many things into the wall that I don’t necessarily need and I justify watching the Simpsons as “learning social psychology from pop media.”

Don’t get me wrong, I still think Steve Jobs is a benevolent genius. He is also human, and he has high aspirations for people; that is what ultimately failed him. Just like Einstein attempted to warn the dangers of weaponizing atoms, Jobs recognized the dangers of our continued obsession with iWhatevers. In 2009, Apple left the Chamber of Commerce citing that

[Apple] strongly object to the Chamber's recent comments opposing the EPA's effort to limit greenhouse gases. As a company, [Apple is] working hard to reduce our own greenhouse gas emissions by relying on renewable energy at our facilities and designing more energy-efficient products for our customers. We have undertaken this unilaterally and without government mandate, because we believe it is the right thing to do.

Of course I know Apple has also done disreputable things to risk our planet, but I don’t fault them for what they have done for not knowing – I hole them responsible for carrying the wishes of the “right thing.” Under Jobs' leadership, Apple is one of the few companies that cares about overhauling its office buildings as well as addressing its supply chain impacts. 

But onto the part I waited for – Chinese existentialism.

When one of the consumers was interviewed about Jobs’ death in a Apple store in ShangHai, he wished for a Chinese innovator who can match Jobs’ talent so that China isn’t just making “counterfeit things.”

I concur. For a people that invented paper, compass, gunpowder, printing, and has a tradition of inventing energy efficient machines for development, China’s now problem is trying to reconcile the thousand year old legal tradition of open license for inventions and thus abiding them to social good. Innovative forces are focused to not making profits but to contribute to social goals. But since China is adopting an outdated capitalist model, it is having enforcement problems at the grassroots level where historical significance has penetrated by generations of its acceptance.

China today is building cheap and in mass quantities without due consideration to impact or social value. No one is stepping up to invent a solution to the problem because it’s a political problem. It’s a political problem because it's a transparency problem and ultimately a people's problem. The government think open innovation is dangerous so they are happy to apply a first generation capitalist theory to control its people.

Get rich, but you can't share your thoughts. If the middle class is happy and buying, they won’t complaint about the lower class not having enough – right?

I can’t figure out at what point when a people’s republic is so blinded from government actions came to existence. Are the Chinese people simply allowing the repeat of thousands of years of Imperial rule to settle back into their collective consciousness? Or are the people asleep to the idea that "to get rich is good"?

Or are we better than that to be able to determine our own fates?

If China is to have a harmonious society, why is it so reluctant to become more transparent and consistent to foster more harmony between the people and government? I once heard someone say that the Chinese intellectuals have had their balls chopped off. Like unic serving their emperor, the scholars will say whatever the government wants them to say and no more. Could this have inversely affected China’s ability to innovate? You be the judge of that.

My point is that if China wants a Steve Jobs, it’s not that difficult. Allow the People real opportunities to be innovators and creators – ARTISTS.

A friend of mine recently asked what I think of when I think of Chinese existentialism. My first answer is Lu Xun, a turn of the century writer who inspired a generation of intellectuals. But I only realized today that Confucius is the granddaddy of all Chinese existentialists and we haven’t thought of it as an existentialism thing until the reintroduction of individual rights in the recent years.

Individual rights came as a package deal from western thoughts in capitalism. Self-preservation and economic order by the “invisible hand” sounds magical. No one ever bothered to ask what the “invisible hand” is actually doing or what individual rights to get rich actually meant – killing or building?

That is the Chinese existentialist question. In a world where China will dominate the world in population, consumption, and construction; where will the Chinese be to account for the consequences? Hiding behind the walls of the Forbidden City or out in the open with its people and people of the world? How will the Chinese People see its tradition? With the likes of Confucius and Lu Xun or in the image of Wall Street suits?

Jobs short 56 years arguably transformed more aspects of our lives and impacted more of our sustainability thinking than any previous inventors. He likes turtle-necks and jeans. I sometimes question the real impacts of his inventions on our environment, our society, and on our economies and I blame some problem on us the consumers. I never questioned his intention.

I also blame the producers like Apple for not anticipating their impact more accurately and sometimes falsely leading us down the wrong path. Now that we know more, we have no excusable alternative from the right thing to do. I don’t question Steve Jobs’ leadership in that direction.

If the world is to come to a sensible grip with its problems in light of globalization, we need China’s government to open its innovation reserves and allow the open thoughts reign. The rest of the world may have to take a closer at the uniquely Chinese Intellectual Property traditions and learn how to harness the tradition to benefit sustainable development and socially responsible economies. This is where Jobs is going, in his uniquely American ways. There is no reason why we cannot learn and aspire to his success and keep his dreams alive. There is no reason why the Chinese people cannot have its own Steve Jobs with already the wisdom of a deeply Chinese existentialist.

Steve Jobs would be so proud. I wonder what Andy Rooney would say to all of this?


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