Friday, March 16, 2012

Mike Daisy is less important than thousands of workers

I just have to say, the glee that has erupted over the revelation that Mike Daisy fabricated large parts of his case against Apple says an awful lot; it just doesn't say what people think it does. The fact that Daisy lied (and it certainly appeared he did) doesn't mean that Foxconn's factories and other parts of Apple's supply chain are good places for workers. On the contrary, the facts still tell us that these are hellish, despicable conditions and that Apple's enormous financial success  is predicated on enormous human suffering. That's the important story, but it will of course be lost in another self-congratulatory circle jerk on Twitter. The fact is that criticism of Apple is always going to be subject to far more scrutiny, and far more desperate efforts to undermine it. That's how powerful the attachment is, and given what little things principles are, they don't stand a chance.

You should all watch this story, because it is absolutely perfect for the savvy blogging generation: it is about personality rather than materiality, it highlights the meaningless metanarrative rather than the actually important story, it exculpates that savvy blogging set from their considerable and well-deserved guilt at subsidizing these shameful conditions, and it lets them engage in judgment (a condition they are decidedly comfortable with) rather than sit in judgment themselves (a condition they are decidedly not comfortable with).

The reality is that for most of us who use fancy electronics (like the laptop I'm using to write this post), that use is in direct conflict with a desire for healthy, safe, and empowered workers. For most of us, that's just your typical daily petty hypocrisy, of the kind capitalism makes inevitable. For most Apple people, given their total refusal to accept even the most anodyne criticism of the company-- now perhaps the most powerful in the world-- it's something worse.

Update: Commenters are about unanimous that I'm wrong here. So.


Tim Donaghy said...

It seemed to me that your last post on the anti-anti-Kony-back-lash-back got a little stuck in the "meaningless metanarrative" too. You didn't agree with the video but were super-upset about the "sanctimony" of the critics. Just sayin.

Freddie said...

Well, I can tell you a lot of things I'd like to do to Apple. I can name very things of worth we can do for Uganda.

Brendan said...

The fact that Daisy lied (and it certainly appeared he did) doesn't mean that Foxconn's factories and other parts of Apple's supply chain are good places for workers.

Can you find any examples of anyone saying or implying this?

Freddie said...

Time will tell. The bigger question is what will prove a bigger story.

Brendan said...

It seems like you wrote this post reacting very angrily to stuff that hasn't happened yet. I Googled around a little and can't find anyone expressing glee, let alone claiming that this tells us anything about working conditions in Foxconn plants. In fact every report on this points out that the things Daisey made up actually did happen, even though he didn't really see them first-hand. I'm kind of scratching my head about where this post is coming from, especially the anger behind it.

Tim Donaghy said...

There are "very few things of worth we can do for Uganda?" Really? For someone who hates it when people dismiss your field of study without knowing anything about it, you sure are fond of cynical, evidence-free generalizations.

There are lots of people who spend a lot of time worrying about how to make international aid better, smarter, more democratic, more participatory, more effective. Because, sure, there are a million-and-one ways of doing it wrong. But I don't think even Bill Easterly or Dambisa Moyo would say there's literally nothing useful to be done.

Freddie said...

Yes, because that's exactly what I said-- there is literally nothing to be done in Uganda, if absolutely all options are on the table and in the broadest sense.

Or, you could take that in the obvious spirit in which it was given, which is that given the kinds of options suggested by the Stop Kony video et al, and the reality of America's place in the world, and the delicacy of the geopolitics of Africa, there seems to be little that we can do directly to Stop Kony or bring him to justice.

ovaut said...

Keston Sutherland, a British avant-garde poet, gets really guilty about exactly this bind in this interview

Freddie said...

I should note that the boo birds have a point on this one.

josh said...

@Brendan, this sub-header makes explicit the kind of wrongheaded exculpation I think Freddie has in mind:

Writer defends 'Apple is evil' lies as dramatic license

The entire premise of Apple's wrongdoing is now classifiable (and classified, for so very many people) as a lie.

But in at least one sense I disagree with the premise that Daisey isn't the story here. Not in any important sense. In this small one: what Mike essentially said was that Steve Jobs put workers' wellbeing willfully in jeopardy to enrich himself. And what has Daisey done? Exactly that. He gave life to this story only to definitively kill it in the minds of a great subsection of the populace -- thus, himself, personally, participating in extending the life of whatever offenses are actually occurring in Foxconn. Daisey will prove to have hardened the arguments against worrying about such things. He's complicit. And why did he do it? What's the ultimate justification? It's Jobsian. He wanted to create a product -- his monologue -- that was insanely great.

That he and Jobs were both utterly willing to commit what each perceived as lesser crimes in the interests of some personal ambition I hope proves fascinating, edifying, and perhaps ultimately pivotal to Mike Daisey.

Erik Ostrom said...

Brendan, when I read "I can't find anyone expressing glee," my first thought was "Facebook," but it turns out the glee I remembered seeing was about Jason Russell's beach episode, not Mike Daisey's fabrications. My second thought was "Daring Fireball."

I didn't find glee there, or a claim that Foxconn is a worker's paradise. But John Gruber has spent the day on a series of posts about Daisey's lies, and doesn't seem to have said a word about what life at an electronics factory might be like. This is pretty much what Freddie's second paragraph is talking about.

I don't mean to pick on Daring Fireball; I don't know the site well enough to put it in context. It's just the first thing I thought of.

sweet tooth said...

Hey Freddie.

Didn't read all the comments but the early ones seemed like the same old stupid prattle of people who live on the internet. Who cares?

What a thing to be subtle about! The conditions in Chinese factories! At least Jcapan, whatever our differences, have the same contempt.

An anecdote: Was at a bar yesterday. Drinking whiskey in the awesome catastrophic early climate change Denver sunlight.

Dudes were talking up Apple. More to the point, they were having that horrible yuppie conversation that makes me feel like a feral beast. As in: they were actually talking about their devices! They were alive on the earth talking about Apple products!

Anywayz, I entered in and quickly alienated myself and almost came to fisticuffs. (Probably happily for myself the beeyatch walked away.)

The fact is that the particular maddening irony of our era remains that the investor class in this country has absolutely no fucking idea that they are "the investor class". I mean, I told the dude straight up, "Better watch out, bitch, they put them heads on pikes."
And of course, he just looked at like me like I was a LOSER. Which I am. But not in the way he thinks.

Another snippet: "Degrading?" "Yes, degrading. You ever worked on a factory line?" "No." "Then why are you tendering a judgment? Because you're a fucking idiot loser of the investor class?"

Anyway, Freddie my man, didn't real all the comments 'cause they started to bore me. People who speak up for Apple in any capacity bore the fuck out of me.

I could care less about some man's reputation. I'm just an internet commenter.

Tim Donaghy said...

@Freddie, OK fair enough, I could probably have taken your comment with a more generous spirit.

My point was that there are a large number of "actually important" stories about Uganda (leaving military intervention to one side for right now) that are, in a similar manner, also way more important than their meta-narratives (i.e. the sanctimony of the messengers).

freeloader said...

Revealing that people only care about the accuracy of a This American Life segment when their own consumption habits are put in question.
This American Life writers have a-l-w-a-y-s dramatized their stories (ironically even the "Retraction" episode). Until the Apple story apparently only through rhetoric/style, not by literally making data up.
I didn't hear people complain when TAL, e.g., turned mothers living in a place other than an American suburb into "moms", or when it applied the red state/blue state narrative to Poland. Just a few weeks ago they talked about a guy who doesn't really look like Obama as if he really does look like Obama. All of those things are at least as manipulative as Mike Daisey's story, but people didn't care.

Freddie said...,71042/

Anonymous said...


Rest assured, your particular brand of radicalism consistently heartens me.

I agree with you. The main takeaway is the terrible working conditions in Chinese factories as the largest population on earth goes through the throes of the Industrial Revolution. People can actually witness today what it was sorta' like for those who lived and died in the satanic mills of Manchester.

It never ceases to amaze...the casual dismissal of those costs.

Disagree that Apple is one of the most powerful....but that is just a quibble.

sweet tooth said...

The last Anonymous said it best. Sorry I was drunken and belligerent in my own post. No need, ever, to insult one of your commenters, who are my favorite people to read on the internet, period. (And which, to echo Jcapan, is not exactly a place for 'deep ecologists', whatever that is.)

(Incidentally, when the fellow I was talking to started ranting about the 'fact' that Apple factories aren't here because American workers are too lazy and shiftless, etc, I simply mentioned that if I was a craven and heartless big wig of the investor class, I too would hit the time-travel switch and set my factories in some modern equivalent of satanic Manchester. And of course he just stared at me 'cause he had no idea what I walk talking about. Which twists Santayana: Those who don't study history are free to repeat the sins of history with a clean conscience.)

Freddie said...

I'm looking more and more prescient, here.

minimalist said...

"...the facts still tell us that these are hellish, despicable conditions and that Apple's enormous financial success is predicated on enormous human suffering"

If the conditions so obviously "hellish" and "despicable" then why did Daisy have to juice up his show with fabrications? If the truth was so powerful then why did he need fictions about carpal tunnel claw hands, n-hexane poisoning, and 12 and 13 year old workers? Why did he claim he visited 5 times as many factories as he actually did? These tactics sure look like those of someone with an agenda.

The truth is almost always complicated and nuanced and nobody with an agenda likes complications or nuances. It's easier to make juicy stories up (or throw around phrases like "hellish, despicable conditions") and ignore the inconvenient facts (such as the fact that these workers are lining up by the thousands at the gate to get these jobs which means the other choices available to them are even worse).

Adam said...

Your headline is right, and that's one reason to be unhappy with Daisey.

For the most part, he didn't really lie about whether something happened - the n hexane thing has been widely reported and I'm sure someone smashed his had somewhere - but he lief to put himself in the middle of things. He went to China and didn't have the dramatic experiences he hoped for, so he made them up.

Thus giving lots of people to believe that they never happened.

Anyway, I just think it's disappointing that we can't have serious discussion about anything.

biomuse said...

minimalist wrote: "(such as the fact that these workers are lining up by the thousands at the gate to get these jobs which means the other choices available to them are even worse)."

Not to put too fine a point on it, but: So the fuck what?

Comparative Depravity is a more useful subject when the company in question isn't among the most billion$-enriched corporations on the planet. When it is, that's more of an indulgence, to put it kindly.