Like many media people I use an Apple Mac computer and an iPhone. A new book throws light on why Apple is such an iconic brand and it doesn't sit too comfortably with my Quaker faith.
Scholars and philosophers debate the meaning of truth – is it subjective or objective, relative or absolute? Steve Jobs, the iconic genius behind the Apple Mac, iPod, iTunes, iPhone and iPad is said to have had a “reality distortion field” in which truth was distorted to fit in with his particular view of how things should be. According to a comprehensive and highly readable biography by Walter Isaacson, Steve could be savagely cruel as well as charming, generous and loyal. Probably his greatest strength was also his Achilles heel – he was passionate about brilliant product design and he could destroy anyone who stood between him and achieving it in Apple products. Because of this obsession, the very first Mac was nearly two years late when it launched in 1984 and cost twice as much as first intended. I've been a Mac user for over twenty years and I now understand why I love Apple so much, even though Macs are double the price of equivalent Windows computers. There is something about using one which is deeply satisfying, almost spiritual, and it has to do with the total integrity of its design.
But this visionary dedication to elegant, simple and functional design came at a price. If something stood in the way of achieving a particular goal Steve would simply twist reality so as to magic the problem away. Colleagues would be incredulous at his gall but sometimes it became a self fulling prophesy and the impossible was achieved – sometimes reality had eventually to be faced. Often, people would suggest an idea to Steve and he would react by dismissing it as “complete crap”. A few days later he would present the same idea as if it is were his own and the real originator would be dumfounded. Steve Jobs was a genius but I'm glad I never had to work with him!
I think some of the same mentality must be at work in society today. Former British Environment Minister, Chris Huhne has been charged with falsely claiming that his wife was driving his car when it was caught speeding by a traffic camera on the M11. He claims that he is innocent and at the time of writing this the trail has yet to be held so we must wait for its judgement. But a recent survey has found that as many as 12% of drivers said they would ask a friend or relative to take the speed camera penalty points if they were facing a driving ban. Although speeding is a relatively minor traffic offence, perverting the course of justice caries a mandatory prison sentence and for a very good reason - unless the truth is sacrosanct there can be no justice. If people can get away with saying whatever they like in evidence we have no sound basis for our legal system.
To get round this problem, at some point in our history we created a two-tier standard of honesty. There was the truth and there was the truth you gave “on oath”. The trouble is there can only ever be one reality. We can understand or interpret that reality differently but that is not the same as believing one thing to be true and saying something else. Over 300 years ago George Fox, the founder of the Quakers, saw the absurdity of this situation and refused to swear an oath on the Bible, (presumably based on Matthew 5:33). Even today Quakers will not swear oaths although they are no longer thrown into jail as a consequence, now they can 'affirm' that what they are saying is the truth.
Perhaps the time has come for society to dismantle its two tier standard of honesty so we can mean what we say all the time.