American Sense of Life vs. Hollywood

Although it’s old news, I learned about it only in the last week or so via Facebook: “A bipartisan group of Congressmen introduced a bill [in May of this year] that would stop costly first-class flights by lawmakers at taxpayer expense and force representatives and senators to fly coach.” The four Congressmen who sponsored the bill are evidence that at least some in Washington have retained an important element of what Ayn Rand called the “American Sense of Life.” In her essay, “Don’t Let It Go,” she described various aspects of this sense of life, this implicit philosophy that American share and that, Rand thinks, has saved us (so far) from being taken over by a totalitarian dictator. One aspect, Rand wrote, is that Americans “feel that a government official is a human being, just as they are, who has chosen this particular line of work and has earned a certain distinction.” So, while we may feel respect for our government officials, “it is the respect of equals.”

Travel west to Hollywood and you’ll find quite a different attitude. Gwyneth Paltrow, herself a celebrity who one would think would see herself as equal to a politician, apparently fell all over herself when introducing Barack Obama at a fundraiser in her home. “You’re so handsome that I can’t speak properly,” quipped the recently consciously uncoupled actress.

What’s even more disturbing is that Paltrow seems to see no problem with the idea of Obama being exempt from the rule of law, from the Constitutional limitations that plague mere mortal presidents: “It would be wonderful if we were able to give this man all of the power that he needs to pass the things that he needs to pass,” she said.

Travel north to Silicon Valley for the most heartening example of the American Sense of Life—in particular, the focus on achievement and independence—that I’ve read about this week. Jony Ive, in a rare on-stage interview, described how Steve Jobs taught him about the importance of focus, and how he agreed with Jobs that, if you said no to other activities, opportunities or projects, it was not a sacrifice because “I wasn’t vaguely interested in doing those things anyway….” (I assume he meant that, in the context of what he was currently working on, he wasn’t vaguely interested in doing those things he said no to.)

Even more awesome than that was an exchange Ive recalls having with Jobs over the latter’s famously harsh critiques of the work product of members of their design team. Ive asked Jobs whether he would consider softening the critiques.

And he said, ‘Well, why?’

And I said, ‘Because I care about the team.’

And he said this brutally brilliantly insightful thing, what he said was, ‘No Jony, you’re just really vain.’

‘Oh.’

‘No, you just want people to like you. And I’m surprised at you because I thought you really held the work up as the most important, not how you believed you were perceived by other people.’

And I was terribly cross because I knew he was right.

I sure hope Ive stays at Apple, and stays healthy and productive, for the rest of a very long life. (Much longer than 75!)

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