Michael Jackson, Bad Apples and selective blindness

Please note: sometimes I make logical steps that others may find offensive. 

i) if you can find a hole in the logic then please leave a comment
ii) if you simply dislike where the logic leaves us then please go away and reflect on your own position

I hope that seems fair. 

So, why the disclaimer?

I’m going to be writing a blog on Michael Jackson and Apple, two subjects where people seem to get so passionate that I believe they leave logic behind – and they end up mentally committing to positions that don’t reflect their normal views. What Michael Jackson and Apple share is an ability to make people blind to their flaws, due to their brilliance. When people’s views on these subjects are challenged they either

i) revert to restating the brilliance they perceive
ii) underplay or excuse the flaws in a way that almost defies logic

Let’s start with Michael Jackson…

I once had an argument, with someone who I really respected, that made me doubt their sanity. They were a big Michael Jackson fan (each to their own, in isolation that fact isn’t what made me doubt their sanity) and seemed to be hold a position that consisted of the following two statements

i) Michael Jackson was an incredible performer
ii) Michael Jackson could not have been a child molester

Worryingly there appeared to be a mental link in their mind that they couldn’t break between the two statements; that seemingly the better he was as a performer the less likely it could be that he was a child molester. It was almost as though these asserted facts had a causal link

My counterpoints were these

i) someone’s talent is no excuse for or predictor of their behaviour
ii) an innocent man doesn’t tend to make payments to settle cases where they have been accused of child molestation
iii) it is highly unusual for grown men to invite children to their house for ‘sleep overs’

We continued debating until what turned out to be the closing exchange 

‘would you let Michael Jackson babysit your son?’
‘well, no’
‘would you accept that your actual view is that Michael Jackson was an incredibly talented performer, but you aren’t sure he wasn’t a paedophile’
‘that’s not fair’

I think it was fair, it is just an example of cognitive dissonance. Nobody likes to think of themselves as fans of the music of a child molester. 

Let’s move straight onto Apple…

Ok, but before we do I should declare that I am a self confessed Google fan. My world runs on Google. I sometimes assume that when my daughter has acquired a new skill that she has simply had an over the air update from those clever folks at Google. I’m writing this on Blogger (free from Google). I do possess an 160gb iPod, it’s brilliant, I’m aware of the hypocrisy.

I thought you were moving onto Apple?

Yesterday I got into a debate on Twitter about Apple’s business practices that reminded me of the Michael Jackson argument. Twitter is an odd place to debate as neither side is able to show subtlety or context within the character cap. I’m going to summarise some of the views you often hear about Apple, but not directly quote from that discussion, as I want to deal with the substance of the problem rather than an individual debate

Arguments you hear for Apple

i) Steve Jobs was very smart
ii) You can’t argue with the design
iii) They are incredible at innovation
iv) Look how slick everything is
v) They do everything first and everyone else copies don’t they?

Arguments against Apple (sources at end of Blog)

i) Unpaid internships to 14 year old children in factories producing Apple products
ii) ‘Suicide prevention netting’ to catch people jumping off the roof of factories producing Apple products
iii) Workers forced to sign a legally binding document guaranteeing they and their descendants would not sue the company as a result of unexpected death, self-injury or suicide
iv) Apple Inc established an offshore subsidiary, Apple Operations International, which from 2009 to 2012 reported net income of $30bn, but declined to declare any tax residence, filed no corporate income tax return and paid no corporate income taxes to any national government for five years.”
v) Apple have pursued a policy of attempting to create broad patents which cover design concepts that are the only way of doing things. They aren’t originators of some of these ideas, in fact they are off by decades…. 2001 – an iPad adventure

And a great, great story about Steve Jobs…

There is also this great exchange that may shed some light on to what extend Steve Jobs is the great innovator people believe him to be, rather than an incredibly good refiner of other people’s ideas. Because the cult of Job’s worship is another reason why Apple is sometimes above criticism. 

Their meeting was in Jobs’s conference room, where Gates found himself surrounded by ten Apple employees who were eager to watch their boss assail him. Jobs didn’t disappoint his troops. “You’re ripping us off!” he shouted. “I trusted you, and now you’re stealing from us!” Gates just sat there coolly, looking Steve in the eye, before hurling back, in his squeaky voice, what became a classic zinger. “Well, Steve, I think there’s more than one way of looking at it. I think it’s more like we both had this rich neighbor named Xerox and I broke into his house to steal the TV set and found out that you had already stolen it.”

So you are saying Apple is evil?

My point isn’t that Apple is all bad, my point is that people still point to them as a great company. Yet if I asked you to describe a great company you wouldn’t start your list with slave labour conditions and tax evasion. These positions should be largely mutually exclusive. 

But when you talk to people about Apple the mental shutters come down, suddenly the actions are justified by the need to protect market position – or the fact they make great products. It’s an irrelevance. Ethics matter, if you believe that ethics matter then the quality of the product ceases to matter to the debate. 

It is no more relevant than the quality of Michael Jackson’s music to his other alleged activities. Or Jimmy Savile’s charity work to his systematic abuse. 

The world is complicated  In many ways Apple isn’t a great company – if you want to call it a great company you probably have to ignore your own definition of a great company. It is cognitive dissonance, nobody likes to be fans of the tax avoiding, child labour employing patent bullies. 

If smart people did become fans to that degree you would end up with silly scenes like this…see 1 min 30




Issues at Apple factories:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foxconn#Poor_working_conditions
Tax avoidance: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-22607349
Discussion with GatesExcerpt from Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson Copyright © 2011 by Walter Isaacson

3 thoughts on “Michael Jackson, Bad Apples and selective blindness

  1. thanks Bruce adn thanks for commenting, this link gives a good overview of dissonance http://goo.gl/ggoYXand and one of the coping mechanisms is, indeed,to focus on more supportive beliefs. I think it works in tandem with confirmation bias in that people will sift news mentally to find things that both confirm the 'rightness' of their buying decision and this, in turn, allows them to create further mental distance from the conflicting things sitting behind that decision.


  2. Agreed – the two go hand in hand and more often than not, people don't realise they're actively employing one or both strategies in their minds.Also reminds me of a conversation I had with a Russian friend – he was keen to stress that the ability to weigh and debate two alternative views simultaneously was a great step towards better thinking – I'd have to agree with him!


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