Mike Darwin on Steve Jobs's hypocritical stance towards death

by Synaptic1 min read8th Oct 201178 comments

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DeathMedicineHypocrisy
Personal Blog

First, Darwin describes Jobs's (far mode) stance towards death: 

As Aschwin points out Jobs is on record (his Stanford Commencement Speech) as saying that death is the best thing that ever happened to life - that it clears out the old, and makes way for the new.

But these are Jobs's actual (near mode) actions regarding his own death: 

The really big story, so far largely unexploited by the media, is that Jobs got a liver transplant and got it here in the US. This just does not happen in patients with his Dx and prognosis - not since Mickey Mantle, anyway. And his outcome was exactly as was predicted. This infuriates those 'in the know' in the transplant community, because you have only to look to guys like Jim Neighbors, Larry Hagman, or even Larry Kramer who got livers many years or even a decade or two ago, and who continue not only to survive, but to do well. To put the liver of a 25-year old into a ~54 year old man with metastatic neuroendocrine pancreatic cancer violates the established protocols of just about every transplant center in the US.

The conclusion:

I find it more than a little hypocritical that Jobs, who spoke so glowingly of the utility of death for others, used every bit of medical technology AND his considerable wealth and influence, to postpone it for it himself, including the expedient of taking a GIFT, given with the sole intention of its being used to provide genuinely life saving benefit (not a futile exercise in medical care) and squandering it on a doomed attempt to save his own life. If you have the temerity to stand before the entire population of this planet and proclaim the goodness of death, then you should have the balls to accept it - especially when your own warped, erroneous and IRRATIONAL decision making was the proximate cause of your own dying. Instead, Jobs chose to grasp at straws, take a gift from a dead man and his family, given in good faith, and squander it on his own lust for more of the very thing (life) that he has publicly proclaimed it is a second best to "Death (which) is very likely the single best invention of life." 

 

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Relevant. (Summary: Jobs' type of cancer is relatively treatable when caught early, which it was. Unfortunately, he delayed 'conventional' treatment for nine months in favor of an 'alternative' diet.)

Not sure what moral to take from this. Fear of mortality makes people do crazy things, perhaps?

When people ask, "What's the harm in believing in Astrology/Homeopathy/Alternative Medicine/etc" or "What good is rationality", remember this as an example. Steve Jobs died because he did not make rational choices and because he trusted in sham science.

It's easy for people to brush off numbers from some websites by saying they're inaccurate. But a single example can stick in their minds. I hope that his death can serve to ward others away from such dangerous practices. I hope that the next time someone thinks about abandoning rational decisionmaking, especially in the health field, they remember this lesson paid for in blood: One of the richest and most beloved CEOs in the world died because of alternative medicine. The same thing can easily happen to you if you do the same.

I hope his memory can still contribute to the world by sparing others of the same fate.

1James_Miller9yAre you sure this is right? Hasn't Robin Hanson taught us that we can't always trust the medical profession's claims about how useful the medical profession is.

we can't always trust the medical profession's claims about how useful the medical profession is.

One thing that's much more trustworthy than average is the claim: "Early detected disease X? We can totally fix that!" It's a falsifiable claim.

Claims that are deeply tied to statistics, statistical significance, fuzzy definitions, subtle effects, or other things are more likely to be the wrong ones.

-6mwengler9y
5MartinB9yBrightness in one area does not imply bright action in another.
2James_Miller9yThe importance of IQ, a single measure of intelligence, contradicts your statement.
8Oscar_Cunningham9yIntelligence in one area is evidence of intelligence in another, but not infinite evidence. Problem dissolved.
0James_Miller9yYou are defining imply such that X implies Y means that if X happens Y always occurs, whereas I'm defining imply to mean that if X happens Y is more likely to occur than if X didn't happen. In this context my interpretation is better since yours renders MartinB's statement trivially true and therefore vacuous. Edit: I misinterpreted Oscar's comment.
1Oscar_Cunningham9yThat's exactly what I intended to mean (my comment wasn't intended to support MartinB over you).
1MartinB9yI don't think I actually understand your comment correctly. Could you elaborate? There are many intelligent people who do great work in one area while failing in another. A successful entrepreneur who is into alternative medicine is not particularly surprising.
3James_Miller9yIQ, a single number, is important because people who are smart in one area tend on average to be smart in others. Jobs was extremely good at making decisions based on an intelligent analysis of complex information so I would expect him to be at least above average at making personal medical decisions. Jobs has been described as [http://gawker.com/5847344/what-everyone-is-too-polite-to-say-about-steve-jobs] We should be shocked if he did an incompetent job of choosing his own cancer treatment.
0MartinB9yAre you assuming a linear relation between IQ and correct decision making? In medical issues a person of normal IQ could just go with whatever the doctor says, while a high IQ person might know enough to know about all the troubles with medical services, yet be not able to distinguish a case where the doctors way is the absolutely best option there is. The article claims he choose wrongly, and we should be sad about that. But not necessarily surprised.
1wedrifid9yWhat would that assumption even mean?

So, did he get himself frozen anyway? Apart from his professed attitude to death, he did also say in that commencement address that nobody wants to die, not even the ones who think they'll go to heaven. He would have been an ideal candidate: dying in his prime of a non-brain-threatening disease, plenty of advance warning that the day was coming, and enough money to pay for the best possible care.

6shminux9yIf he did and made it public, that would be a re[al ]birth of cryonics. It would also be totally his style: steal an idea and perfect it to the degree that everyone would want it.

If we're going to dissect Job's comments and measure how hyprocritical he is from a handful of sentences at a commencement, we should at least once see the full context:

"This was the closest I've been to facing death, and I hope it's the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:

"No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share

... (read more)

Liver stealer. Handicapped-space parker. Charity non-donor.

I like Bill Gates better.

3PhilGoetz9yWhen Steve Jobs was "friends" with Steve Wozniak, he accepted a contract for some computer engineering work for $2000, then payed Woz $500 to do the work and never told him he was pocketing $1500.

So if Woz had been willing to do the contract for $200 but didn't tell this to Jobs, would this make Woz a bad person?

Would you stay friends with someone who did to you what I just said Jobs did to Woz? Would you not be angry about it at all?

Here's the correct story, from Wikipedia, with 5 citations:

Alcorn assigned Steve Jobs to design a prototype. Jobs was offered US$750, with an extra $100 each time a chip was eliminated from the prospected design. Jobs promised to complete a prototype within four days.

Jobs noticed his friend Steve Wozniak—employee of Hewlett-Packard—was capable of producing designs with a small number of chips, and invited him to work on the hardware design with the prospect of splitting the $750 wage. Wozniak had no sketches and instead interpreted the game from its description. To save parts, he had "tricky little designs" difficult to understand for most engineers. Near the end of development, Wozniak considered moving the high score to the screen's top, but Jobs claimed Bushnell wanted it at the bottom; Wozniak was unaware of any truth to his claims. The original deadline was met after Wozniak did not sleep for four days straight. In the end 50 chips were removed from Jobs' original design. This equated to a US$5,000 bonus, which Jobs kept secret from Wozniak, instead only paying him $375.

0James_Miller9yIf my friend lied or deceived me then I would be angry. Otherwise, I think my friend would have reasonably interpreted my failure to ask how much he would make from the deal as a signal that I wasn't concerned about how much he would be profiting from the transaction. Often finding work is significantly harder than accomplishing it, and knowing this would have caused me to not be upset with my friend. When I did find out what the friend did I would probably think to myself that this is a guy really good at making money and I definitely want to keep associating with him.
4Vaniver9yAre you sure your judgment isn't being altered by having the example of Steve Jobs in mind? If someone tricks you out of a substantial sum of money, it's a bit of a stretch to presume it's likely they have world-changing taste. Typically, people willing to trick their friends are not people you want to be friends with, and Jobs is the exception rather than the rule. His ability to make money off you does not mean you'll get a reasonable share of that money.
0James_Miller9yFair point, but I don't think so. Let's say that I'm Woz and had been willing to do the work for $200, and HP ended up paying $5750. This meant Jobs found someone willing to pay 28 times as much for my time as I considered it to be worth. Even if I developed a hatred towards him I would hide it.
3PhilGoetz9yI think you're being a one-step rationalist, looking one step ahead in game theory. A 2-stepper realizes that, if he signals to his friends that they won't be his friends anymore if they fail to split windfalls with him, his friends may split windfalls with him.
0James_Miller9yOr they will just make deals with non-friends and leave me with nothing.
1FAWS9yI guess these comments are being voted down because of the cultural norm not to speak ill of the dead. Since the dead themselves have no feelings that could be hurt any more the purpose seems to be to avoid hurting the feelings of the grieving? Is this the application of the norm here and in this context an example of a lost purpose (but harmless?) or still useful/reasonable?
1printing-spoon9yI heard 5000$ and 375$...
1MartinB9yIt is mentioned in iWoz, the autobiography of Wozniak. I can look it up.

The common understanding is that death is a great thing, after a life well lived, not during. (with the unmentioned implication that dementia had set in years ago and no more production is being done.)

One might however argue that Steve created more utilons with the time he got from the transplant than any other receiver would have.

2loup-vaillant9yWell, some probably think [http://stallman.org/archives/2011-jul-oct.html#06_October_2011_%28Steve_Jobs%29] that Steve destroyed utilions with his additional time. Apple's latest products are very slick, but at the same time very locked. The IPad for instance overcomes technophobia by keeping geeks out. I'm not sure whether this is a net gain or a net loss. (Disclaimer: I politicaly [http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Politics_is_the_Mind-Killer] support free software.)
2Tripitaka9yI wonder on what scale such utilons would be measured; Apple is one of the least philantropic firms in the US! Source: http://money.cnn.com/2008/03/02/news/companies/elkind_jobs.fortune/index4.htm [http://money.cnn.com/2008/03/02/news/companies/elkind_jobs.fortune/index4.htm] Important parts roughly excerpted: "After Steve Jobs returned to the ruins of his life's work, he froze the charity-programs of Apple; fourteen years later, they stay frozen altough Apple is the most valuable firm of the world, with the exception of 100k$. In comparison, other major technology firms spend tens of millions per year!" Major edit: found an english source, replaced the german source.
3MartinB9yI did not mean charity, but Utilons. As in: designing awesome products for their customers. The future now will show how much of Apples success is related to Jobs, and how much he succeeded in transmitting his creativity (or however that what he does is called) to the next generation of Apple leaders.
1wedrifid9yThe scale of roundwhitenobuttons.

Jobs's statement came in the part of the speech where he talks about how knowledge of the possibility of death can motivate a life well lived. He does say about dying that "that is how it should be" but he never says that you should accept death, he says that knowing you're going to die someday is a great motivator. Presumably it motivated him to get a liver transplant. I don't really see any hypocrisy.

Just think how hypocritical it is to err on record, but then go on benefiting from correct ideas like nothing happened. Thank heavens we can rely on honest men to be wrong every time.

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Unless, you know, as Jobs got older and became less of a youth-obsessed person, his "utility of death" view was abandoned.

9gwern9yGosh, he must have grown up a lot in those 6 years since his 2005 commencement speech.
2Hyena9yHe would have been 50 that year, right? Isn't that usually a psychologically important age for most people which definitively separates the young and old?
8Oscar_Cunningham9yDid you know that the speech was only 6 years ago when you made your original comment?
0Hyena9yI've been observing my parents' rollover to 50 the last two years. As it happens, I'm also visiting them at this moment, so this is a salient dynamic to me. My stepfather has gone from hard ass to laid back from 50 to 52. My mother, looking at 50 is rearranging her priorities extensively. They've sold houses, left jobs, planned extensive vacations and so on. Priorities have shifted massively as have more general perceptions of life and success; both emphasize their age more and seem to use it as a social enabler to actually take on the early retirement they could have done years ago. They both point to their age, particularly the leading five when explaining themselves. It is like a bit has flipped and this has been the background process in my mind since Wednesday when I flew out for a funeral. (Naturally, I could go on, given the family reunion status of funerals, the mix of ages and particularly the binary feeling of change you sometimes get when meeting people again after years.) So while this thought may be furthest from your mind meditations on "becoming an old man" have been a major component of mine.
4Oscar_Cunningham9yYou didn't answer my question.
2Hyena9yYes.

How long ago did Jobs receive the liver transplant?

6see9yApril 2009. So he got less than two and a half years out of it.
4Jack9yQuite shocking. I'm surprised it hasn't gotten news coverage, especially given this whole 99% thing.
2gwern9yIt's forgotten now, although the liver thing got a fair amount of coverage (I certainly remember reading about how he gamed the system to get a liver) at the time. And now that there is renewed interest, it would be uncharitable and mean-spirited to speak ill of the dead.

it would be uncharitable and mean-spirited to speak ill of the dead.

Why?

7Kingreaper9yI'll agree with Nornagest on the insult to injury part, but there's also a second part: If you talk about someone's failings after they die, but not before, then you seem to have been waiting until they were no longer available to defend themselves. IOW: it seems cowardly, and dishonest. Because if they were still around, they might be able to dismiss your allegations.
5lessdazed9yCan I mitigate people's negative feelings by mostly offering cites of old criticisms?
5Kingreaper9yThat should help, but I'm not certain how much. The problem is that whatever the reason for the rule originally, it's now ingrained as a moral absolute in some people's minds.
5Nisan9yIt's a tradition, like being nice to people on Christmas. There's no reason for Christmas in particular to be a day on which you're extra nice. But people aren't nice enough in general, so the tradition is a step in the right direction; I'm not going to criticize it.
3Nornagest9yBecause it feels like adding insult to injury for those grieving, I'd imagine.
0jhuffman9yI wonder how the liver donor's family feels.
2gwern9yDunno; ask the normals. But I've read it so many times that they must have some such attitude.
2MarkusRamikin9yNormals have a problem there. When a death is fresh and on everyone's minds, you're supposed to be nice rather than care about facts, truth and accuracy. But by the time you're allowed to care about those things, nobody is paying attention any more.
0Craig_Heldreth9yIt is an anachronism from prehistory when the dead were presumed spirits, capable of hearing you speaking ill of them, and retaining power to injure you. The motivation is primal fear.
1Craig_Heldreth9yIn my view the liver thing has gotten nowhere near the amount of coverage Mickey Mantle's did. And Mickey was just as widely respected and even hero-worshiped as Jobs. To me these are closely comparable cases. My memory may be distorted, but it seems to me that there is some zeitgeist shift. I have a friend who cannot get a kidney transplant. His kidneys are failing and he is on dialysis and without a transplant his life expectancy is less than five years, but he is considered a poor prospect and can't get his name on a waiting list. What Stallman said was uncharitable and mean-spirited. This I am not so sure. Livers are more precious than kidneys and to waste one is a really huge deal. (I do not know enough about medicine in general or Jobs case in particular to know about the accuracy of that wastage characterization.)
1wedrifid9yNever heard of him. I heard of Jobs, like, several hundred times.
2gwern9yI think it's a generational thing. When I mentioned it to my parents, they knew instantly what I was asking about and even knew the details of the Mantle thing. (Neither one is a pro sports fan, and their main familiarity is with football, not baseball.)
2wedrifid9yOh, so he is a US baseball player. We get more iPods over here than we do baseball. That explains it. Worldwide relevance.
0wedrifid9y:s/be/be perceived as/
0Normal_Anomaly9yGood point, but I think your markup is broken. EDIT: Never mind!
0wedrifid9ySeems to be working as I intended it. Do you perhaps suggest a different form of ad hoc substitution syntax?
3Normal_Anomaly9yOkay, it clicked for me on second reading. I would have used: but your way works too.
0wedrifid9yThat works too. Bold or italic? Hmm... I may try bold next time. It stands out more as an insertion while italic may be better for 'emphasis added' situations.
0byrnema9yWhen I brought up the issue of the liver at Sunday dinner, my mother-in-law said exactly, 'Yeah, he was able to extend his life for another two and a half years'. Just interesting, the different perspectives of the same fact.

All of the suggestions in print that Jobs jumped the queue for a non-medically necessary Liver transplant and treated his cancer by going to a vegan restaurant are speculative. Gossip. National-Enquirer class stuff.

Here we are on Less Wrong, and bunches of you are succumbing to the same biases that grocery shoppers succumb to every day when they pick up sensational tabloids at the checkout. Of course I would never claim that this means you are wrong, but it sure as shitake doesn't mean you are right. Indeed, I would claim that it does mean that talking about these suggestions as if they were facts is more noise than signal.

4pedanterrific9yFortune [http://money.cnn.com/2008/03/02/news/companies/elkind_jobs.fortune/index.htm] is a tabloid now? EDITED TO CLARIFY: This is not to confirm or deny any allegations about liver-or-other-organ transplants or donations by anyone to anyone. This is only about the vegan restaurant thing. That is all.
0byrnema9yI skimmed the article, but it was somewhat long. Which page refers to jumping the queue? Update: Thanks for adding the clarification.
2pedanterrific9yIt doesn't, as far as I know. The only claim I made [http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/7zp/mike_darwin_on_steve_jobss_hypocritical_stance/4zo0] - and which mwengler contested [http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/7zp/mike_darwin_on_steve_jobss_hypocritical_stance/4zrk] elsewhere in the thread - was about the 'alternative' diet stuff. A quick googling doesn't turn up much in the way of evidence for the liver thing. Edit: Ah, I see you've already commented on that. Nevermind. (I think most people probably downvoted for saying "Seriously, if there is someplace the story is told that Jobs shortened his life by not doing the rational thing please link it and/or summarize it" when my grandparent comment had the link. Admittedly I added the summary afterwards.)
0byrnema9yYour comment is quite misleading then. Someone would read the first sentence of mwengler's comment, and then your comment, look at the votes and conclude Fortune must confirm it. Update: Thanks for adding the clarification.
2pedanterrific9yMy apologies; comment has been edited to include a disclaimer.