Forbidden Fruit: Thirty years of oppressive spiritual cultivation at Apple (Part IV)

Inside the Church of Apple and the living word of Steve Jobs

Cher Scarlett
Published in
28 min readFeb 16


This is part four of a five-part series. New? Read parts I-III:

  1. Welcome to Apple
  2. A Fortress of Secrecy and Spirituality
  3. Pale Blue: Connecting dots to death in #AppleToo

From its creation, Apple had two sets of marketing materials. The ones that were dispersed among employees and management, and the ones that were marketed to the public. One simple; one not.

Apple’s first marketing materials. Left: External, Right: Internal. (1977)

The ultimate sophistication of Thinking Different

Somehow, Apple Together has imprinted on a not-insignificant portion of society. It’s even helped me in a personal crusade against facial recognition technology. I intentionally turned Apple’s employee organizing into a single, unified rival brand. With input from the group, I designed a logo reminiscent of Apple’s, knowing they couldn’t bully us in court — it’s protected by the National Labor Relations Act. I even spent thousands of dollars making employee-targeted marketing materials to mimic theirs — which the group handed out in stores around the country.

Apple Together marketing decks, 2021

Slogans like “Think equitable.” and “The power to work your best.” — inspired by other Apple labor organizations around the globe — let us turn the company’s tactics on itself to make Apple Together somewhat synonymous with Apple. In Global Security, the first iOS application I wrote was a widget that flipped through the eight — specifically, eight — ‘rules’ of Apple security. I got the idea from being told about physical versions of decks or cards like these existing in various departments. Leadership had one, too, for giving to newly promoted managers. Importantly, Retail had something like this with Apple’s credo on it. If I made it look enough like official Apple, no one would notice it was a foreign material, and Retail workers would curiously check it out. Apple Together grew to fifty times its size — so far.

Marketing Decks for Apple Together (Designed by me for AT, 2021).

I unintentionally gave it a de-facto face (mine) — but thankfully more people came forward to connect the brand with real people to empathize with — like Janneka Parrish, who was unceremoniously fired for her efforts. But with great power comes great responsibility. I’m no Steve Jobs. I left the company and tried to decompress from destroying my career for the greater good.

The sad thing is that none better represent a deep love for the people of Apple than its organizers. In 1991, organizing employees repeatedly expressed their desire to improve the company. In 2021, nothing had changed. In 2023, they are still organizing, trying to make the workplace better for everyone.

Apple employees are working hard to continue to organize, but the coverage of it has dried up. I did not realize how important it was to have an Apple leader running the show. Until someone in Apple Together steps into the spotlight to bombard the media with Apple news — the way we did in 2021 — it will be tough for it to match Apple.

Steve Jobs with the candy-colored Macintosh.

#AppleToo and Apple Together worked so well because we all took Apple marketing 101 without realizing it. Apple is a show. Steve Jobs is still the star. An epic story teller of a heroic tale lives on in memory. You’ll never forget Steve Jobs, and you’ll never think of Apple without thinking of Steve Jobs. He’s the hero of Apple’s story and heroes get remembered.

Jobs was a visionary; cutting through the bombardment of seemingly unrelated stimuli. He hand-selected emerging patterns to conjure technological magic. Or did he? The only thing that matters is what you remember, and Jobs recognized this early on. Apple’s flavor of dictatorial secrecy has nothing to do with product release cycles and everything to do with curating our memories.

Jobs believed that the essence of a brand is what people remember — to implant a memory, you must connect with them emotionally. To connect emotionally, you must share common values.

Steve Jobs evangelized Apple’s core values — and his own — as changing the world to further humanity.

He also valued the use of psychedelics, acknowledging it made him more creative. With his authoritative charm — concealing a deceptively novel grasp of the mind — he packaged and sold himself as a marketing guru. Where did he get these ideas? Like the underpinning of Apple itself, he told us from the start. Apple was marketed as the underdog in a battle against authoritarian rule — ‘The Man’. Thirty years ago, people were feeling the effects of corporations becoming intertwined with the government. What we knew as the middle class was being squeezed with inflation, causing stay-at-home moms to go to work and the ability to purchase a home to evaporate.

The Zen of Steve Jobs.

Steve Jobs didn’t originally want to be an entrepreneur. He wanted to be a poet. He sought enlightenment. Rolling Stone’s Jeff Goodell believed that Steve Jobs just wanted to be loved, which comes through in Walter Isaacson’s biography of Jobs, too. While that may be true, more than anything Steve Jobs wanted to be understood. He took William Wordsworth’s quote for the first Apple logo because he related to it. He was a societal observer, constantly processing the world around him with a compulsion to share his understanding with the entire world. I am acutely familiar with this plight. I didn’t earn the nickname overCher without cause.

I think Steve Jobs would cringe at being described as insecure, because that’s not really what it is. No one is living with us in our heads and our primal desire is to be properly comprehended. Being misunderstood is the greatest tragedy for a philosopher and the only fix is to gather more input for our internal algorithm and output an upgraded version of ourselves to finally be seen. Despite that he was a duplicitous asshole, I empathize.

Marketing materials for the Rainbow Coalition

In the 1960’s, Steve Jobs was a part of growing popular counterculture. The term was even coined by Theodore Roszak in 1969. Freedom, peace, love, sex, drugs, and rock & roll. Anti-class, anti-Christian, anti-heterosexuality, anti-racist, everything that could take hold of modern Western society was chiefly anti-Western. Chicago had its Rainbow Coalition. San Francisco became the ‘gay capitol’ of the United States, leading to the Stonewall riots.

A gay rights protest in San Francisco

Along the west coast of the States, Buddhism and psychedelics took hold as a subculture of hippies described as a confident defiance with profound emotional legitimacy. Counterculture itself made nations and states entirely out of the rejection of social norms. Woodstock was born. What many of us did not notice — but perhaps Steve Jobs did — is that corporate America infected the counterculture movement like a virus. Everything was a business for ‘The Man’ to capitalize on — even the violent resistance to ‘The Man’.

Woodstock poster.

Power is inflicting pain and humiliation. Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.

Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power.

George Orwell, 1984

Every revolution was co-opted by those in power. ‘Separation of Church and State!’ cried the people of the colonies, who then promptly asked us to pledge our allegiance to the new government and its Christian God. For those who struggle to assimilate, each powerful movement of freedom became a new society to be discarded in.

Steve Jobs wanted to understand himself and his place in society because he never felt like he belonged. His rebellious nature was one that authority figures in his life felt was unwieldy. He found counterculture because it felt like he’d found his people. Learning about himself and the world around him was profound for him and he wanted to share his learnings as teachings. Before that, when he graduated high school, he and his girlfriend Chrisann Brenner — who had to initiate physical contact between them — moved into a cabin the woods where he consumed Bob Dylan’s lyrics and regurgitated them into his own poetry.

Ultimately, it comes down to taste. It comes down to trying to expose yourself to the best things that humans have done and then try to bring those things into what you’re doing. Picasso had a saying: ‘good artists copy, great artists steal.’ And we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.

Steve Jobs

If it weren’t for the commitment his adopted parents made to his biological mother that he go to college — he could’ve probably stayed there forever, playing the guitar and smoking weed in the woods of Northern California. He found the most hippy school he could and went to college in Oregon. Steve Jobs was allergic to the bottom of hierarchal structure, though, and didn’t last a semester. He stuck around, without student status, going to classes of his choosing to observe, eventually leaving to study Buddhism in India. The result was not a modern Hippocrates, Buddhism itself made Steve Jobs want to become someone else. Thomas Edison was enlightened enough not to invent the light bulb, but to convince the world of a single, viral message that they needed them. Edison said, ‘Let there be light!’ and so it was.

After that, Steve Jobs spent his time using his charm as a womanizer, basking in the free-spirited women rejecting the status quo of purity and covering up and using his love of technology to create a new era post-Edison. He did it not because of his deep understanding of electronics — Steve Wozniak was the technology expert — the miseducation of Steve Jobs was psychology, philosophy, theology, and anthropology. He was an expert on authority, defiance, and the human mind.

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. It takes a lot of hard work to make something simple, to truly understand the underlying challenges and come up with elegant solutions. […] It’s not just minimalism or the absence of clutter. It involves digging through the depth of complexity. To be truly simple, you have to go really deep. […] You have to deeply understand the essence of a product in order to be able to get rid of the parts that are not essential.

Steve Jobs

Marketing the Mind.

Me and my younger sister, Alice. (2002)

I got interested in consciousness in high school. I picked up a book called Your Brain is God after I was introduced to its author thanks to a song called “Third Eye” by my favorite band, Tool. Timothy Leary, founder of the Harvard Psilocybin Project, inspired the lyrics. The prose that hooked me? The same passage that popularized the phrase “Think for yourself; question authority” during Nixon’s presidency. Nixon warned that Leary was “the most dangerous man alive.” Decades later, a once-desolate threat would ignite a raging defiance to authority in a brazen young mother. Rebel that I am, I studied brain physics and basic neuroscience at the University of Missouri St. Louis. (I had a preschooler and two minimum wage jobs; I dropped out, but continued to attend classes for months off and on to ‘audit’ them.)

Throughout human history, as our species has faced the frightening, terrorizing fact that we do not know who we are, or where we are going in this ocean of chaos, it has been the authorities — the political, the religious, the educational authorities — — who attempted to comfort us by giving us order, rules, regulations, informing — forming in our minds — their view of reality. To think for yourself you must question authority and learn how to put yourself in a state of vulnerable open-mindedness, chaotic, confused vulnerability to inform yourself.

Timothy Leary, How to Operate Your Brain

Leary was a psychologist, not just a fan of psychedelics. I’ve read all of his books — on top of a scientific and philosophical compendium of explorations of time, space, and the mind. Listening to Steve Jobs preach is like listening to an amalgamation of the second circuit of consciousness, arousal-biased competition, and nearly every other theory I learned about how the brain decides what to notice, what gives us existential drive, and what to remember. While I was exploring Leary’s philosophies, I stumbled upon The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley and his concept of Mind at Large.

The function of the brain and nervous system is to protect us from being overwhelmed and confused by this mass of largely useless and irrelevant knowledge, by shutting out most of what we should otherwise perceive or remember at any moment, and leaving only that very small and special selection which is likely to be practically useful.

Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception

You see your car’s make and model everywhere not because your brain shines a spotlight on it, but rather because it stops filtering it out. Neuroscience would later confirm that suppression of information the brain finds distracting is how we are able to handle the constant exposure to the world’s stimuli.

Indifference to source allows us to assimilate what we read, what we are told, what others say and think and write and paint, as intensely and richly as if they were primary experiences. It allows us to see and hear with other eyes and ears, to enter into other minds, to assimilate the art and science and religion of the whole culture, to enter into and contribute to the common mind, the general commonwealth of knowledge.

Oliver Sacks, Hallucinations

And while memories feel like historical documentation, they are anything but. Memories are an evolving act of creativity.

Even Steve Jobs’ most memorable quotes are themselves plagiarisms disguised as inspired genius. This isn’t necessarily on purpose — the phenomenon of cryptomnesia garbage collects the sources of information as unimportant, unless the source is itself made to be important.

Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.

George Orwell, 1984

Steve Jobs used the shroud of mystique to make Apple its own hype machine. This wasn’t an accident. Does any of this sound familiar?

This is a very complicated world, a very noisy world and we’re not going to get the chance to get people to remember us.

The only chance we have of communicating is with a feeling.

We believe people with passion can change the world for the better.

At Apple, Jobs’ teachings on emotional branding continue posthumously. The structure is designed and maintained, whether or not Steve Jobs is menacingly barking at intruders.

From Apple’s credo:

We are here to enrich lives. To help dreamers become doers, to help passion expand human potential, to do the best work of our lives.

We are here to enrich lives. To help dreamers become doers, to help passion expand human potential, to do the best work of our lives. AT OUR BEST We give more than we take. From the planet, to the person beside us. We become a place to belong where everyone is welcome. Everyone. We draw strength from our differences. From background and perspective to collaboration and debate. We are open. We redefine expectations. First for ourselves, then for the world. Because we’re a little crazy. Becaus
Apple’s Credo (2016)

Selling counterculture while also being culturally dominate is an intricate and impressive feat. The allure of anti-culture in ancient times was broadly the same as it is today; people on the fringes of society were drawn to a place they might belong. The secrecy was a matter of survival. Being a Christian before the Edict of Milan, the proclamation of religious tolerance in Rome that was issued in the fourth century, being an open follower of the zealot Jesus made you a heretic, a cultist, and ultimately, a martyr with your execution. It is said that philosophers in Greece, too, had secret mysteria meetings dedicated to politico-philosophic social change. Socrates, a supposed attendee, was sentenced to death for the blasphemous crime of corrupting the youth and refusing to acknowledge the chosen gods. Counterculture required covert action; overt status quo challenging meant death. Socrates died by suicide to avoid execution — his final challenge to the oppression by the government.

Clandestine clubs only seize fragments of individual personalities relevant to its purposes, referred to by sociologist Georg Simmel in 1908, and supported by psychologist Sigmund Freud’s ‘group psychology’ texts in the 1920’s. The triumph and connection in these shards of the many results in the othering of the remainder of the individual, or depersonalization. Individuals shed self-responsibility and become more impulsive, uncritical, and extremely open to suggestion. Members become completely merged in the extra-individual motive; Freud cautioned that the formation of a group mind was comparable to the experience of hypnosis. As a result, covert social groups are easily corrupted into tools of oppression themselves, disguised as fringe, underdog pursuit of challenging the status quo or otherwise bettering society for the common good. One of the most egregious modern abuses of group mind was NXIVM, the personality cult disguised as self-help. NXIVM was not itself secret, but rather had hidden compartments of secrets gated behind manufactured exclusivity via extremely expensive fee structures, like its processes of supposed personal development. Hidden deep within NXIVM was a sex-slavery cult ran by the founder Keith Raniere and actress Allison Mack, among others.

Secret societies have a multi-faceted pull in that people naturally seek exclusionary superiority and the opportunity to influence others, which is directly related to how much one feels in control and in power over their own life. NXIVM capitalized on the consumer’s drive for ‘mimetic dominance’, which behavioral scientist Alex Imas refers to as, “the desire to possess something that others want exclusively is a great passion of human nature.” Research from Imas and economist Kristóf Madarász shows that social capital only influences the trending upward of purchases if others are excluded in some way from participation. They showed that this can occur most easily by artificially inflating the value of a product or limiting when or how many can be purchased. Any method, or a combination of these methods, works. Creating an entire cult brand identity around an exclusive counterculture wrapped in a mysterious, yet accessible luxury? That may be the key to building the largest empire in human history.

Modern counterculture in Gen Z is the ultimate counterculture: hyperreal individualism. They define themselves around infinitely disparate, chaotic combinations of identifying features and they are simultaneously the most lonely generation in history. There’s more noise than ever — driving people into addicting isolation in their uniquely curated experiences on their devices. They are desperately seeking ways to connect to social circles and to influencers who drive what is ‘cool’. Gen Z is even more driven to purchase the couture items that their favorite influencers are using than generations past. More often than not, the only accessible celebrity luxury to young people is Apple’s iPhone.

Ostracism in the 2020’s is more polarizing than ever. With Apple’s extremely isolated systems — iMessage and FaceTime, for example — being the person in a social group who cannot participate is an instant ticket to being excluded. On an iPhone, iMessages are blue, the color of safety and reliability, and SMS messages are green, the color of envy and poison. iMessages will confirm the message was delivered, possibly even provide a receipt that it was read, adding to the sense of trust. The green messages look out of place and iPhone users will suggest the SMS user needs an iPhone, or is otherwise using the ‘wrong phone’. It wasn’t always like this. Before Apple introduced iMessaging with iOS 5, all outgoing SMS messages were green. That’s why the icon is green. The psychological profile of green before iMessaging was good, a signal it was sent, contrasting with red for an error. Now, the complex system makes group messaging with only iPhones a seamless interactive experience that is broken down with the addition of an SMS user — and the green messages are the new scarlet letter. The anti-collaborative technology codifies the social segregation, making it impossible for any other device or operating system to disrupt Apple’s social capital. Gen Z comes ready fragmented, in search of social inclusion, while still inherently looking for superiority in the exclusion of others.

Apple does what few brands can: it acts as unifying social glue and gives Gen Z buyers an artificial sense of scarcity and vintage-feel that comes with Apple’s mystique and a trusted multi-decade cultural influence. They simultaneously sell hyperreal individuality, celebrity connection, and a sense of belonging. It’s no wonder Gen Z is their most lucrative market yet. Apple sells Gen Z’s individuality aesthetic and desire for social inclusion — an investment that has been extremely rewarding for Apple. This is especially true in China, where Apple’s influence is rapidly rising and fashion trend-watchers have identified Gen Z’s shopping habits to be centered around celebrity couture.

You cannot have a supply without need. Is Apple creating the loneliness that its ecosystem provides a solution for? Is that loneliness driving Gen Z, and perhaps millennials, to seek a tribe within Apple’s cultural circle? Is the allure of a secret society more powerful as an accessible exclusive culture club with the air of mystique from a central fortress of secrecy?

Apple’s body of marketing forms an emotional, hypnotic, righteous connection between their brand and society. Consumerism has become a religious ritual rooted in the hyperreal individual value system and no one is selling spiritual superiority better than Apple. Especially to its employees.

Apple’s Inclusion & Diversity video in 2017 (ironically mentioning a door opening all doors, which is precisely the opposite of how Apple works):

Apple’s “Underdogs” video in 2019 (this is especially comical given that we tried for weeks to get leadership or HR to meet with us about the results of the pay equity survey — before we released the results to the public):

Recent Apple watch advertisements (yikes):

There is something so undeniably disturbing about these ads that goes beyond the nature of Apple’s marketing strategies. They don’t align with the atrocities that have persisted across over three decades and as many continents within corporate, retail, and the supply chains. They are also extremely inaccessible. The Apple Watch costs hundreds of dollars.

Buy an Apple watch; it will save your life. It’ll only cost you your soul.

Are the lives of factory and mine workers around the world worth the convenience of a tiny computer attached to your wrist?

If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself. You must know all the while that it is there, but until it is needed you must never let it emerge into your consciousness in any shape that can be given a name.

George Orwell, 1984

I must confess I didn’t set out to write this piece. I was writing something else entirely that I never intended to publish called ‘Laughing, crying, screaming: A journey to Apple and post-whistleblowing hell’. I wasn’t feeling like myself and needed to work through what happened and write the facts out, because so many complete strangers have warped my story into what they see fit.

I wanted to make peace with the fact that I can’t control what other people say or think about me. In a way, I’ve given up my story to be picked apart and put back together in fictitious, at times malicious, ways that resonate with others. I’d read many times that transactional writing, like penning letters without sending them, is therapeutic. I thought it would grant me serenity — and it did.

As a recovering addict, I have several sobriety coins to celebrate various milestones. 30 days. Six months. 10 years. My favorite coin, though, is my 24-hour coin.

Rosie the Riveter was a real person, but she became an icon of feminism in World War II. I have my own meaning for Rosie and I have no idea if she would support it or be upset that her own accounting of who she is has been replaced by a motif. Still, I look at her when I’m struggling and recognize I have the strength in me to make it through anything life tosses my way. What’s a little false light and defamation?

Rosie the Riveter.

On the back of the coin, instead of the serenity prayer, is a message that has echoed throughout my chaotically privileged life. “You’re Always One Decision Away From A Totally Different Life.” It’s powerful because it has the capacity to be about a good decision or a bad one. That’s the great responsibility. We have the power to choose.

Like Steve Jobs, I’ve experimented with psychedelics as a method of self-reflection and therapy. Once when I was in a not-great place I had what I thought at the time was a bad trip. My environment was controlled and I was safe, but I didn’t have a plan and reality felt like it was unraveling in golden spirals of neon colors in the vacuum of space as time slowed and my life came to an end over and over again.

My environment and subconscious were causing me to think I was stuck in a strange loop of my death from a heroin overdose. I kept seeing red and blue lights flashing outside of my window, shivering, sitting up, and looking down at my side table to see my cause of death in a scattered pile. One thought kept popping into my head before I would lay back down and relive the loop: “Wake up. Make better choices.”

Your thoughts construct patterns like scaffolding in your mind. You are really etching chemical patterns. In most cases, people get stuck in those patterns, just like grooves in a record, and they never get out of them.

Steve Jobs

I wasn’t seeing my death, of course, I was just hallucinating. The person I was with kept opening and closing the window, which is why I was getting cold on repeat. The flashing lights were Christmas lights still on just outside. When the window was open, the wind moved the blinds around. The rest was my mind filling in the blanks to show me what deep-down I needed to see. A deceptively simple caution: if I didn’t make a different decision, heroin was going to kill me. I’ve never picked up that needle again.

Douglas Hofstadter’s I am a Strange Loop

As I was sitting here working through all of this information, I realized the neon imagery I kept seeing was on the cover of a book I’d read. It was popular among programmers when it was released in 2007 (there’s even a conference named for it). Hofstadter, though not a technologist, postured the self as a feedback loop, not unlike self-referencing programs we write, he theorized consciousness as an ever-self-rewriting system that is a series of refinements based on our experiences: our memories.

In the end, we are self-perceiving, self-inventing, locked-in mirages that are little miracles of self-reference.

Douglas Hofstadter, I Am a Strange Loop

The ability to choose is entangled with an environment outside of our control; the gift of critical thought and reasoning is what makes us who we are. Our ever-increasing complexity is wisdom.

Hypatia taught us that propaganda is a terrible thing that is more painful to undo than our typical shifting and evolving reality because the truth is tangible. Facts can be observed. Falsified. Proved. Only through great pain and perhaps tragedy can we be in after years relieved of smoke and mirrors. Facts are not enough to unravel a web of lies, in fact, we see attempts to correct conspiracy theories and broadly accepted misinformation has the inverse impact: confronting deeply held lies increases misconception. This is because threatening one’s worldview triggers a flight-or-fight response. Our brains are trying to keep us safe. We cannot be told our beliefs are wrong. We can only empathetically be provided information we have the choice to explore.

When I started writing this piece, I had heard Apple referred to as a religion and as a cult. It was a metaphor, I thought. The SDA church in Waco was a cult, I thought. Apple is a corporation. A company with a huge fandom because Steve Jobs was a genius inventor of a touch-screen computer that doubled as a phone and fit in our pocket. He put the whole world in our hands. Right?

If you wish to make the Apple of every ‘i’ from scratch, you must first invent the universe. Steve Jobs did not invent anything. He didn’t make anything, either. Even the marketing genius was Nike’s — he built on it with a deep comprehension of psychology.

Like others before him, he read a lot and had a lot of experiences, perhaps he was keen to observations that others were not. He was utterly human, like the rest of us, very good at copying and pasting: rearranging. He did not invent the iPhone — he compiled it and tied it to the government. Hundreds of thousands of workers — Apple’s people — made it. We all paid for it, and then he sold what we paid for back to us for more.

Steve Jobs created the Apple universe. The universe is the fandom.

I‘m not an Apple fanatic, but I’m party to it. I use the internet. I watch TV. I’m drawn to technology companies like a magnet. I was captivated by the simplistic beauty that is Apple. Everything else was noise.

Now, faced with facts, the evidence is clear my reality is not what it seems. The immovable force that is the truth. On Apple’s packaging it says ‘designed’ in California. Why did I think it said ‘made’? How did I miss all of the deaths and destruction on the other side of the world? Out of sight, out of mind: I’m only human, after all. Physical proximity to pain reduces our capacity to empathize with it. The further abstracted the knowledge, the less we care, and the less we care, the better our brain is suppressing the information as unimportant.

Can you imagine what a horrible experience reality would be if we had a constant barrage of every bit of pain everyone in the world experienced? Life would be unbearable.

Was Steve Jobs a hero who lived long enough to become the villain? Many don’t even see the latter, or refuse to see that holding him in high esteem in spite of his abusive nature is detrimental for wholistic societal progression. Eddy Cue, one of Apple’s executives, has the warped idea that any light shone on Jobs that paints him as cruel is inaccurate and mean-spirited. Jony Ive, Apple’s chief design officer for nearly 30 years, told Walter Isaacson:

He’s a very, very sensitive guy. That’s one of the things that makes his antisocial behavior, his rudeness, so unconscionable. I can understand why people who are thick-skinned and unfeeling can be rude, but not sensitive people… Because of how very sensitive he is, he knows exactly how to efficiently and effectively hurt someone. And he does do that.

— Jony Ive

While I agree that the question of whether or not Steve Jobs was a hero or a villain is a false dichotomy — people are more complex than that — he enabled horrific things that he doesn’t get the credit for. Tim Cook did not globalize Apple into slave labor and environmental injustice in a vacuum.

When you’re young, you look at television and think, There’s a conspiracy. The networks have conspired to dumb us down. But when you get a little older, you realize that’s not true. The networks are in business to give people exactly what they want.

— Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs got caught in his own reality distortion field. Nietzsche’s message was not perfection no matter the cost, it was Kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold lacquer highlighting the cracks, instead of concealing them with paint. The point is to use the natural tragedies and disarray of life to create beauty.

In Showtime’s series Westworld, Delores, the show’s protagonist who says she chooses to see the beauty instead of the ugliness of the world, is stuck in a loop. She was a ‘host’, the show’s label for the bio-mechanical droid actors with artificial intelligence. Her creator gave her a maze to complete. The show’s antagonist, The Man in Black, is desperate to complete the maze, to beat the hidden layer of the game of Westworld. He’s repeatedly told Delores’ maze is not for him. He becomes evil in the defiant pursuit of the prize of solving the puzzle, culminating in his explosive anger upon obtaining the simple bead maze that belongs to Delores. A child’s toy. In the end, she sees beauty in the ugliness of challenging oppression. As Martin Luther King, Jr said, “A riot is the language of the unheard.”

Westworld, Season 1, Episode 10. HBO.

You don’t know where you are, do you? You’re in a prison of your own sins.

Michael Crichton, Westworld

When I was in high school, I was in a program called ‘Running Start’. It meant that I took classes at a local community college in lieu of high school classes. I stopped attending my English class a few weeks into the first semester because of a book I read as the first assignment in my English class called The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. I barely cracked the pages, but I hated it because I felt Kundera misunderstood Nietzsche’s philosophy of eternal recurrence as life feeling heavy because we are living the exact same life, down to each microscopic moment, over and over again. It made me so angry that a college course would assign me a book to read that so blatantly defied my understanding of reality. It was a bit of an overreaction, I admit.

When you are too close to the center of a mystery there is no way to pull back and see the shape of it entire.

Jeff VanderMeer, Annihilation

Friedrich Nietzsche was not telling us life is deterministic. He was telling us we are constantly reliving our decisions day after day until we die — through our memories and self-reflection. Eternal recurrence is not multiple universes or an infinite loop of big bangs and crunches. It is our own strange loop of introspection — and reflection of society. Our journey inward must also be a journey outward. The weight of being is determined by our experiences and their affect on our environment. From deep trauma, ugliness, disarray, we have the power and responsibility to make beautiful things that do no harm.

Nietzsche’s message of human enlightenment was not a tale of an army of supermen. It was not about destroying our environment — and the people in it — to propel society forward. It was about seeing the beauty of natural order in the chaotic disarray and overcoming the struggles that come with being alive. To take what’s been destroyed inside of you and come out the other side to experience the infinite depth of joy, love, empathy, and connection.

Lightness is emptiness. Heaviness is substance. At seventeen, maybe I was a little too immature to see the message that Kundera was expressing.

I am but a compendium of all those who came before me.

When you trade the lives of others to enrich your own, that is exploitation. That’s not a burden you must heroically overcome, that is a terror you must face when you answer the question, ‘Who are you?’.

Perhaps one did not want to be loved so much as to be understood.

George Orwell, 1984

Courtesy of via

In 2006, The Guardian wrote, “The Jobs life story — humble birth, rise and fall, then miraculous comeback — has even been likened by Apple fanatics to the heroic myths of Odysseus, Jason, Krishna and Christ.” A once-skeptic journalist said Steve Jobs has been referred to as the Thomas Edison of our time, but also said he was “a legend.”

They say, “heroes get remembered, but legends never die.” Bill Gates said that Steve Jobs was a wizard. Megan Garber wrote in the The Atlantic, “Steve Jobs, the man, was keenly aware of Steve Jobs, the legend.” Steve Jobs was a master of illusion; a magician. His greatest trick was to convince the world of a myth. Legends aren’t truths; legends are lies.

A scene from the film Steve Jobs (2015). A fictional moment with insightful wisdom.

Steve Jobs was just a man. Apple is just a company. A workplace is made up of people. Individuals who need to be celebrated, appreciated, and empathized with. Apple is a company made up of brilliant, passionate, fallible people dedicated to leaving the world better than they found it.

There’s a bit of wisdom from Aaron Sorkin in a fictional scene between Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak in his 2015 film Steve Jobs that could help Apple usher in a new era of fostering a responsible, healthy workplace.

It’s not binary — you can be decent and gifted at the same time.

Aaron Sorkin, Steve Jobs

Apple can have a mysterious air around what is being created within its walls without also creating a toxic environment for its workers.

You can captivate the public with surprise and delight with a culture of employees who feel safe to talk about pay equity. It’s not binary.

Be open.
Let your people tell you what to do.

No one needs a fortress of oppressive secrecy to change the world. We can challenge the status quo without joining it or becoming it. Can’t we?

Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.

Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

The warning here is deceptively simple. It’s not about good fighting evil and becoming it. It’s not about monsters or heroes or infamy or martyrdom at all. It’s about hyper-focusing on your own pursuits at the expense of others. We have the responsibility to consider the ripples of a rock we throw in a pond. If we do not do so, we create monsters in a prison of our own making.

The allegory has become reality, again. The children are mining for our gold, and they are dying as the world collapses.

Monkey killing monkey killing monkey over pieces of the ground
Silly monkeys, give them thumbs,
they make a club and beat their brother down
How they’ve survived so misguided is a mystery
Repugnant is a creature who would squander the ability
To lift an eye to heaven, conscious of his fleeting time here

James Maynard Keenan, “Right in Two”

I joined a company I thought was the antithesis of Google. The good in a sea of evil tech companies. I had never heard Apple’s credo and the only ad I saw featured Justin Long in the tech bro uniform telling me I was no longer getting a Dell, but a mac, dude. I wasn’t immune to the indoctrination and I’m not especially unique. I thought I joined Apple to program.

Technology alone is not enough. It’s technology married with the liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields the results that makes our hearts sing.

Steve Jobs

I joined Apple and did exactly what they meant me to do: my life’s work. The more I get to know Steve Jobs, the more convinced I am that he would have been enamored with me — love and hate are two sides of the same coin: deep admiration. Steve Jobs loved philosophical story tellers as he was one himself. Certainly the story of the Hooters Girl with a self-taught education in science and psychology who became a software engineer would have captivated him. The challenge to Big Blue Apple would have stirred him, surely.

Cue the scene: Cher is standing in her Hooters uniform, wielding her mighty stylus. She’s entered the mainframe on the big blue computer touchscreen powered by Apple’s control room. She presses her rod to the Apple app and drags it to the recycle bin. The Worldwide Loyalty Team is trying to bust through the door, their scaled armor impervious to any possible penetration. Her hacked cyber security lock is barely holding. She just needs to empty the recycle bin to garbage collect the reality distortion field of Area OS X…

God created dinosaurs. God destroyed dinosaurs. God created Man. Man destroyed God. Man created dinosaurs.

Dinosaurs eat man…Woman inherits the earth.

— Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park

I’m just a girl, standing at the intersection of technology and humanity, asking society to close the doors to the Church of Apple.

Steve Jobs with the tangerine Clamshell Mac

Tomorrow, in part V, we stroll the Apple orchard

Each day this week, at 5am PST, the next part of this series will be published. The massive bibliography will be posted on Friday with Part V. Missed Part I? Read it here. Part II can be read here. Part III is here.

Steve Jobs’s mother’s family was entrenched in societal norms — he was given up because he was born out of wedlock to a man that wasn’t an all-American Catholic of European descent. His devoted mother made him a sibling to an adopted sister. His girlfriend was impregnated with a daughter and fought for child support out of his self-made fortune. He showed them all by breathing life into his own creation, and named a computer for the baby girl he had no choice in making.

Tomorrow we get to the finale in Part V as we step away from the core and see the the Apple through the orchards. If the fruit of creation is Apple, the fruit of curiosity is Orange. A tangerine dream is rising to the challenge of abandoning the stale comfort of safety for forbidden positive change. Read the finale here.

You can’t be too thin, Or too powerful.

— Steve Jobs

There is no such thing as death, life is only a dream, and we are the imagination of ourselves.