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Exonerating Beauty

Picking up on Justin's post below, I bring your attention to this recent post on the Economist's blog.  It is an uncommonly good and interesting reflection on why it is that an enterprising and ambitious capitalist, Steve Jobs, has been able to escape the snares of the prevailing brand of class warfare animating our popular culture--especially given that so much of Apple's core customer base is comprised of people inclined to be active on the other side of these battles.  Bill Gates of Microsoft was able to purchase his indulgences with his Bill Gates Foundation.  Mr. Jobs, on the other hand, has inspired a kind of prayerful and silent indulgence with the beauty of his products. 

You see, under the direction of Mr. Jobs, Apple has brought to market products that, "add a dash of elegance to the lives of consumers by selling them gorgeously refined devices at a premium."  (Not to mention that cute little Apple sticker you can put on your car and, thereby, telegraph to the world that you are part of the "cool" club . . .)  Not everyone can or chooses to make the financial sacrifice in order to be part of that club.  But everyone is enticed by it and, on some level, they admire it.  All have a sense that there must be some superior mind at work behind these products--a mind that is, in some sense, in better tune with the eternal order of things

So no matter the lack of what our culture considers ordinary philanthropic commitment on the part of Apple.  Their gift to mankind is the fulfillment of their artistic mission and their continued success in the marketplace.  People cheer true excellence even when they are otherwise inclined to scorn the merely "successful."    Whatever the political or economic inclinations of a person, his experience with an Apple product is generally one of those few times in this world where a thing just works precisely as it was intended to do.  It is a symphony of order in the universe.  And he is grateful for it.  It is--perhaps on a less breathtaking scale--akin to what Pope Benedict described feeling when he heard Bernstein conducting Bach in Munich.  It is something like what I feel when watching an effortless and graceful double play or an over the fence, bases loaded, home-run in the bottom of the final inning with the score tied and a little boy catching the ball in the stands.  It is an experience of the "is" and the "ought" coming together for one, all too brief, interlude.  And maybe it is a promise of something better, deeper, and eternal. 

If, as a people, we were more thoughtful, less petty, and less inclined toward envy, we would reflect that we honor true philanthropy when we admire the accomplishments of a company like Apple.  And, as fine as the work of the Bill Gates Foundation is, Bill Gates would be more celebrated for his humanitarian accomplishments in building a successful business like Microsoft than he is for killing mosquitoes in Africa.  But, then, it is sometimes very difficult to see beauty that does not announce itself in arias. 
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