Steve Jobs drifted in and out of college classes, sleeping on floors and getting free meals at the local Hare Krishna temple. (And here we must stop and ask, before criticizing Jobs for going to a Hare Krishna temple-and the Hare Krishnas for being more crazy than not-how many Christian churches in his neighborhood were offering free meals?) He experimented with drugs and Buddhism and then took a job to pay the bills. He tried to discern his future, in an economy with too much inflation and unemployment ranging from 7 to 9 percent. And eventually he discovered it, or it discovered him, and he went on to craft products that improved the lives of billions of people.
A small, ill-educated sliver of those billions are now taking it upon themselves to descend upon Wall Street and Washington, D.C., and a few other places to protest something ill-defined, something having to do with corporations and student loans and the global economy. It's a buzzword social movement; scrutinize the videos and the press releases and all you find are vague statements about banks and war and democracy and education, the former two being wicked, of course, and the latter two being of supreme importance.
Calling this a protest movement is too generous; it implies they know what it is they're protesting.
The complaints are all couched in moral language that belies the underlying nihilism of the protestors, all of whom benefit from smart phones, trucks that bring groceries to their cities, manufacturers that make latte machines, and a capital infrastructure that affords relatively low-cost financing to people who are developing the Next Big Thing, people who are currently anonymous and about whom we can say one thing if nothing else: None of them is wasting his time holding a silly sign on Wall Street.
I have a friend who earned a degree in something relatively unhelpful and then took classes while drifting between jobs. He then received a divinity degree from one of those universities that prides itself on employing people who are too sophisticated to consider Christianity without a roll of the eyes. My children understand economics and the Nicene Creed better than he does.
He is, of course, exuberant about the protests.
Steve Jobs prided himself on being counter-cultural, but in an important sense this adopted child who grew to be a tycoon is quintessentially American. He drifted and he wandered and in the end he forged his own future. He risked his time and what capital he could scrape together on a vision, and he worked himself and everyone around him to the bone to make that vision a reality.
What he did not do was tacitly throw his fate-and responsibility for his life-into the hands of other people. These overprivileged, overgrown children occupying city streets share a common worldview that runs deeper than their cobbled-together socialism, and this worldview is that their lives are governed by Great Secret Powers and, further, that they are owed something.
Jobs became a billionaire, while today's protestors will declare victory if they can throw their student loans onto the backs of people who work for a living. Steve Jobs built computers in a garage, and today's youth build incoherent, self-indulgent mobs, and therein lies all the difference.