The Silicon Valley in which I live, a culture infused with the cocaine high of technological breakthroughs, grates against my earthly sensibilities.
Riding on the crest of adrenalin, discovery, and money, what many in the fair Bay Area know, is not in fact what is. This temporary party atmosphere, around until catastrophe hits, is the last hurrah of capitalism. Whether technology will trap us in a surveillance state, or liberate us from mediating political, economic, and social predators, dangles in the hands of deliberate planning and meta-organizing on the part of those developers.
As users and citizens, we are all developers.
Not knowing the implications of one’s discoveries is very different from saying that there aren’t any. The neoteny of tech bros and gals is part of the enforced juvenilization of tech “campuses” and a society that values brain plasticity over wisdom.
After all, wisdom doesn’t sell. You can’t fake wisdom; there’s no wise way to put lipstick on a pig’s face, but there is money to be made from exploiting our mammalian dispositions.
Thus, tech people are predisposed to think, act, and do as children do. They are rewarded for doing so. But this has consequences for where we are going as a culture, and as a planet.
Enforced childhood and adolescence—having other people clean your clothes, make your food, and take you to work—creates “first world problems”, obsessions with gourmet food, and infantile competition. By disconnecting life from work and work from life, millenials are entranced by expensive eating out, Instagramming meals, and living off rich meat, sugar, and dairy (internal parasite-cultivating, climate change-causing) indulgences. Meanwhile, the products you make hand the keys of ultimate social control over to the highest bidder.
Thus, to work in the tech industry becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Young minds are inculcated into believing what they are doing is indeed a good thing, a helpful thing for society, rewarded by their superiors with a glamorous job which treats them like a kid, pays well, and provides a roulette wheel of opportunity.
At the same time, those highest on the food chain realize their techno optimism must be tempered with social intelligence. Zuckerberg’s Harvard Address talks about the need for universal health care (duh) and Universal Basic Income, simple solutions needed before we can begin to talk about truth, fairness, justice, diversity, or intelligence. Here, the boy billionaire unfortunately does have a point, one he’s cynically selling to the masses as he consolidates money and power.
It’s now a given that there are multiple intelligences, but in the West (particularly the self-interested, individualistic US), this is still some sort of revelation. It has yet to be integrated into schools, politics, commerce, or tech, let alone science, as many conveniently believe in one scale of intelligence (usually the one they excel at).
As Maslow knew, until we have basic welfare (food, water, shelter), the people have no hope of participating in democracy. Since 1970, Rawls and every reasonable political theorist agreed with this theory, yet we still expect a polity without a society. “Society” is fragmented, violent, scared, and unequal; millionaire 20-year-olds dodging and ignoring homeless 60-year-olds in the street.
The illusion of progress is one of the most pernicious veils currently enthralling our eyes.
The high of “being part of the solution” or “doing well while doing good,” is a strong opiate indeed. Since Marx, drug metaphors have been used to compare capitalism’s co-opting and metabolizing any opposition, novelty, or expression of freedom. Like an out-of-control nanobot army, capitalism turns color into grey goo, turns freedom into products, and commodifies all authentic expression. To quote Wright, we are in a technology trap, where every problem demands a technofix.
But the will-to-power techno-optimism concept doesn’t pan out. What cosmology could support the absurd conclusion that a problem’s old template can be used to “innovate” a new solution? The notion that there is a template—the homogenization of the mind globally through damaging the climate, spreading uniform media, and the colonialism of language and culture—is the problem.
We’re talking out of both sides of our mouths, saying we value diversity then quenching it, saying we’re open to difference then suppressing it. When it does pop up, diversity is first a novelty then a perversion, objectified and commodified as it fights to exist in a white capitalist heteropatriarchy. As Erica Wohldmann says, “Complete control is merely an illusion so we might as well be comfortable.” Comfort requires being pushed back, eating and being eaten, giving and taking. Symbiosis—sharing.
We have been stingy with sharing, forgetting our knowledge is limited.
It’s time to come home to fallibility, responsibility, and the truth about our poor state of affairs. Delaying the operation makes the sickness worse and decreases the chance for a resilient recovery.
Our ancestors only owned as much as they could carry. Live simply so that others may simply live. But what of this simplicity at the societal, political, legal, medical, global level?
Decentralization is the first priority; no more anonymous policy-making. If a decision doesn’t directly affect you, you have no right to legislate over it. No more long arms of the government, no more far-reaching corporations preying on the people thousands of miles from their headquarters.
How does the internet and digital technology play into this? Well, we need a localized technology. Can we still have global epistemic cultures with a non-commercial and non-domination clause?
A moratorium on new technologies will allow us room to assess, democratize, and redistribute the existing technologies. We need to remove oil drilling and gas mining from our technological arsenal. Prioritize technologies that clean up social, economic, racial, and gender-centred wounds. The precious resources—human and natural—that we command should be distributed to the most urgent problems with an interdisciplinary, cross-cultural plan of attack, not one made to make money. Then we collectively apply solutions, not with the bull-in-a-China-shop attitude of big tech, but with care and empathy.
We need to shut the 10,000 Pandora’s boxes opened by technology, and doing that will require technologies. But those technologies must be different form the single, aggressive one we have. An indigenous science, a feminist science, a postcolonial science—all are needed for any hope of change.
We need to go where scares us to know our courage. May we be humbled by the sublime, overwhelmed before the creations which created us. May we work in inner and outer service only towards the true liberation of all beings.
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