Stephen Budiansky appears to be channeling the idiocy of Leon Kass (the “suffering is good for you” guru who chaired George W. Bush’s grotesque tax-payer funded “bio-ethics” boondoggle) in the latter part of this attack on Steve Jobs’s attempts to combat his cancer:
With that same petty and narcissistic fixation that we can control everything in our own personal destiny—and for no other ends than our own betterment—Jobs, we read, first attempted to treat his cancer with mumbo-jumbo fruit juice diets and psychic spiritualism, then by ultrascientifically trying to become his own medical authority, spending $100,000 to have his DNA sequenced, acting altogether as if no one had ever had cancer, or at least such an important cancer, before.
Jobs’s turn to mumbo-jumbo was a depressing reminder that superstition is no respecter of IQ, but it was a choice, however foolish, that he was entitled to make, and it was a choice that he made under the sort of threat that could easily bring out the irrational in anyone. Some sympathy is called for. As for deploying his money on bespoke science in the later stages of his battle against a terminal disease, that seems perfectly reasonable. Why go quietly into that dark night?
Especially at the age of 56.
Yes, given Jobs’ age the comparison with Einstein (who also had his faults!) seems inappropriate. Stoicism can be very attractive, but it’s a lot easier to manage if you believe in some kind of providential force.
I think it also illustrates that superstition is hardly only the providence of the religious.
What Jobs did was no more ridiculous than taking statins to prevent heart attacks (they don’t) or eating a “whole grain” diet to lose weight (grains make cows and humans fat) or cutting out meat to get healthy (35 million years of evolution strongly suggests otherwise) or any number of other things people do — at the behest of government and pharma-financed universities — to live better or prevent disease.
Were his treatments a bit nutty? Sure. He should have used his money to finance a new wing of a college of medicine, whereupon some paid-off researcher in a white coat could find “significant correlation” between what Jobs wanted to do and a “decreased risk” of the disease in question. And then we could all start sucking fructose as a path to a cancer-free life.
My understanding is that when Jobs was first diagnosed, he had a good chance of surviving if he’d gotten the surgery right off the bat. Instead, he opted to shove things up his rectum. That was apparently preferable to being “cut open.”
Once things had gone too far, and it was the end, some effort was warranted on Jobs’ part, I agree, but I think Budiansky has a point that you should probably spend a little bit of time worrying about those you’ll be leaving behind instead of delaying your departure time.
I should add that my point works equally well for the religious who want to overextend the life of those who’ve gone terminal for other reasons.