Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the tag “exploitation”

Steve Jobs more popular than Michael Jackson?

At first I was surprised at the way the death of Steve Jobs dominated Twitter and other social media sites. I hadn’t seen anything like it since the death of Michael Jackson. Then I thought it was probably because the people I follow on Twitter and similar sites are more interested in computers than in pop music.

But then it seemed that it was actually pretty universal. Millions mourn because he touched the lives of millions.

He didn’t really touch my life much, though. At least not in a good way.

I once played some games on an Apple ][ computer that a friend had borrowed from work.

I was an avid reader of computer magazines in those days, and one of the things that they all praised Apple computers for was their open architecture. You could put all kinds of third-party cards in them to make them do things that went far beyond their original design. There was a card that had a Z80 processor on it (remember those?), which made it possible to turn an Apple computer into a CP/M machine, and run all kinds of interesting software.

Then the Apple Mackintosh appeared, and it had a decidedly closed architecture, and I lost interest. I played with one in a shop once, in the days when it was a kind of oblong vertical box with a monochrome screen, decided I didn’t like it, and that was the last time I played with an Apple. Oh, there was one other time, when a student whoe thesis I was supervising got an Apple laptop, and we had enormous problems transferringt it back and forth so I could read and comment on it.

More recently we bought a gadget that is supposed to convert audio tapes to digital format. It is basically a tape player that runs off a USB port. It cost R500.00, which was quite expensive for what it is, but I thought it would be useful if I could convert all the tapes I have lying around the house and then toss them out.

When I got it home and opened the box, however, I discovered that the gadget only converted the tapes toApple’s iTunes format, which is virtually useless, except for commercially produced music tapes that have “tracks”. Most of the tapes that I have are speech, or mixed speech an music. The ones I want to convert are mostly research interviews I recorded for my masters and doctoral theses and other research projects. So I spent R500.00 to convert three music tapes I had, and could have bought the CD versions in a record shop for a lot less. There was nothing on the outside of the box the gadget came in to indicate this limitation.

I think Apple took a massive wrong turn when it switched from an open to a closed architecture.

So, though I agree with John Donne that “any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind” I don’t really see Steve Jobs as someone who has benefited me in any way — rather the reverse. And still less do I see him as a benefactor of mankind. Meet the workers dying to meet your iPad 2 demand

If you’re frustrated at being unable to buy an iPad 2, spare a thought for the Chinese workers who may never be able to afford one of the shiny new gadgets but are literally dying to get them out fast enough to meet Western demand.

A new report into conditions at Apple’s manufacturing partner, Foxconn, has found slave labour conditions remain, with staff complaining of being worked to tears, exposure to harmful disease, pay rates below those necessary to survive and military-style management that routinely humiliates workers.

Though to be fair, it is not only those who are waiting for an iPad who are contributing to those working conditions. When I booted up my computer this morning, which has no connection with Apple, the first thing that appeared on the screen, in big white letters on a black background, was Foxconn.

So perhaps it is worth quoting the rest of John Donne’s meditation from his Devotions upon emergent occasions:

Now this bell tolling softly for another, says to me, Thou must die. Perchance he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill as that he knows not it tolls for him; and perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me and see my state may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that.

The church is catholic, universal, so are all her actions; all that she does belongs to all. When she baptizes a child, that action concerns me; for that child is thereby connected to that head which is my head too, and ingrafted into the body whereof I am a member. And when she buries a man, that action concerns me: all mankind is of one author and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated. God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God’s hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another.

As therefore the bell that rings a sermon calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come, so this bell calls us all; but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness. There was a contention as far as a suit (in which piety and dignity, religion and estimation, were mingled) which of the religious orders should ring to prayers first in the morning; and it was determined that they should ring first that rose earliest. If we understand aright the dignity of this bell that tolls for our evening prayer, we would be glad to make it ours by rising early, in that application, that it might be ours as well as his whose indeed it is.

The bell doth toll for him that thinks it doth; and though it intermit again, yet from that minute that that occasion wrought upon him, he is united to God. Who casts not up his eye to the sun when it rises? but who takes off his eye from a comet when that breaks out? Who bends not his ear to any bell which upon any occasion rings? but who can remove it from that bell which is passing a piece of himself out of this world?

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

Neither can we call this a begging of misery or a borrowing of misery, as though we are not miserable enough of ourselves but must fetch in more from the next house, in taking upon us the misery of our neighbors. Truly it were an excusable covetousness if we did; for affliction is a treasure, and scarce any man hath enough of it. No man hath affliction enough that is not matured and ripened by it, and made fit for God by that affliction.

If a man carry treasure in bullion, or in a wedge of gold, and have none coined into current moneys, his treasure will not defray him as he travels. Tribulation is treasure in the nature of it, but it is not current money in the use of it, except we get nearer and nearer our home, heaven, by it. Another man may be sick too, and sick to death, and this affliction may lie in his bowels as gold in a mine and be of no use to him; but this bell that tells me of his affliction digs out and applies that gold to me, if by this consideration of another’s dangers I take mine own into contemplation and so secure myself by making my recourse to my God, who is our only security.

And perhaps that links to Charles Williams’s idea of coinherence.

But that is really a topic for another post.

Creeping nihilism

One day at work some years ago there was a reorganisation in our department, and one person Nadia (not her real name) was designated as the “HR person”.

Some time later there was a quarrel between two co-workers that was disrupting the work of the department and it was being discussed at an executive meeting. I suggested that Nadia should deal with it, since “she is, after all, the Human Relations person.”

Everyone looked at me as if I was mad, and the head of department asked me what I meant. I said she had been designated as the “HR” person, which I had taken to mean “Human Relations”. Everyone else said, Oh, no, HR means “human resources”.

I then remembered seeing an advertisement in the Sunday Times a few years before, for the post of “Human Resources Manager”, and I’d even written something about it at the time — that the spirit of capitalist exploitation was entering our language to indoctrinate us. The Nationalist government had been doing it for years in their apartheid policy, of course, trying to dehumanise black workers and job-seekers by referring to them as “labour units”, who could be sent back to the homelands when they were surplus to requirements.

I was quite shocked to discover that such language had crept into a university, and had become so natural and familiar that everyone referred to it by an abbreviation, apparently known to everyone except me. Such dehumanising language seemed to be the very antithesis of the much-vaunted ubuntu, which was supposed be the philosophy of the new South Africa.

I was reminded of this this morning by a discussion on the alt.usage.english newsgroup about the “harvesting” of human organs for transplanting. That too seems crassly insensitive and exploitative.

In that case it is not just me, but several people seem to find it so. One found the term “extremely distasteful”. Another said, “Sounds like you’re going at the body with a scythe, an unfortunate image. Or a grain harvester, even worse, perhaps.”

Another said:

It also sounds as if the donor was cultivated for the purpose, which isn’t impossible in these days.

At any rate, I wouldn’t support required organ donations. There is a big crew of workers who make a great deal of money transplanting organs. Why should any random individual be required to donate free organs to support this business? If it’s a question of requiring donations based on the need of the potential recipient, then shouldn’t the crew of workers be required to donate their efforts free of charge when the recipient doesn’t have insurance coverage?

There was some discussion of alternative words, though most thought they wouldn’t pass the public relations test: “salvage” and “cannibalise”, for example. Cannibalise is used analogously in the motor trade, when one cannibalises a scrap vehicle for spare parts to use on one that it still running.

The last word in that discussion so far is: “To me, the word is disrespectful towards the Grim Reaper.”

But these are just two instances of dehumanising language, words and phrases that become common currency. We may talk all we like about the spirit of ubuntu, but the very structure of our language is driving it out. Creeping nihilism, I call it.

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