Sunday, December 27, 2015

Seducing the Tech Oligarchs

Beware the tech oligarchs. It feels slightly alarmist but it is not an exaggeration. Considering the amount of wealth they have accumulated at a very young age the potential for the tech oligarchs to do damage grows by the day.

Joel Kotkin raises the alarm:

With their massive, and early, accumulated wealth, the tech oligarchs will dominate us long after the inheritors have financed the last art museum or endowed the newest hospital. Two decades from now, many tech oligarchs will still be young enough to be counting their billions and thinking up new ways to ‘disrupt’ our lives – for our own good, of course.

Nicely said. Those who want to run your life, thus to disrupt it, always say that it’s for your own good. Of course, they assume that they know better than you do how to conduct your life.

Part of the issue, Kotkin analyzes masterfully, lies in the fact that the oligarchs function like feudal lords. They do not provide economic opportunity for the many, but prefer to buy the political allegiance of the great unwashed by handing out freebees. It's the story of today's California.

The new political configuration works in classic medieval fashion, with the rich providing the necessities for the poor, without providing them opportunity for upward mobility or the chance, God forbid, to buy a house in the outer suburbs. With the fading of California’s once powerful industrial economy – Los Angeles has lost much of its manufacturing base over the past decade – its working classes now must be mollified by symbolic measures, such as energy rebates, subsidised housing and the ever illusive chimera of ‘green jobs’.

This ‘upstairs-downstairs’ California coalition could presage the country’s political future. Perhaps it’s best to think of it as a form of high-tech feudalism, in which the upper classes run the show, but bestow goodies on the struggling masses. This alliance will allow the present tech oligarchs to thrive without facing a populist challenge that could interfere with their profits and expansion into other markets.

And if you ask yourself what precisely Facebook contributes to the economy, how it enhances productivity, creates new jobs or even helps to distribute information you will come up with precious little. In fact, Facebook has become very rich by becoming the leading vanity media company. And what could be more vain than Facebook’s list of four dozen gender identities. One shudders to imagine that the people who run that company actually believe in their list.

More importantly, for now, the oligarchs have committed themselves to give away tens of billions of dollars to promote leftist causes.

Kotkin writes:

… the oligarchs, as they have become ever richer, are clearly moving leftwards. In 2000, the communications and electronics sector was basically even in its donations; by 2012, it was better than two to one Democratic. Microsoft, Apple and Google – not to mention entertainment companies – all overwhelmingly lean to the Democrats with their donations.

There seems a natural affinity between President Obama, who sees himself as a force for transformation, and the tech oligarchs, who love ‘disruption’. Each shares a high estimate of their basic intelligence and foresight; it is an alliance of those who feel they should own and shape the future.

By Kotkin’s analysis, it makes perfectly good sense that these oligarchs would skew leftwards. Doubtless, their beliefs are sincere, but one has to wonder, to put it bluntly, about who is controlling their minds. If they believe that they think for themselves they are suffering from a common illusion… only on a grander scale.

After all, tech oligarchs are not intellectuals. They may think that they own the world; they may think that they own all of your private information; but they do not know philosophy. They are certainly opinionated, but opinion and knowledge are not the same thing.

Being very rich and very young they are easily seduced by smooth talking intellectuals. They are more vulnerable because they are undoubtedly persuaded of their own infallibility.

I suspect that people who have gotten that rich that young lack basic humility. This might set them up to be tragic heroes, done in by their hubris, but it also makes them vulnerable to philosophers who can and have seduced them into believing just about anything.

Considering how much of their money will be sloshing through the system to finance leftist causes we should want to know how these tech oligarchs had their minds seduced. 

For example, Sheryl Sandberg has offered women some powerfully bad advice in her crusade for Leaning In. She has allowed women to believe that what really matters in negotiations over compensation is: posturing. Note well that “leaning in” is a posture. As Sandberg’s friend Jill Abramson, formerly of the New York Times, discovered, leaning in can cost you your job and your career.

Now, Mark Zuckerberg is pretending to show the world how wonderful it is to take paternal leave, to take time off from Facebook in order to change diapers. The truth of the matter is that Zuckerberg’s is a supremely arrogant gesture. He is showing that if you own the company you can do what you damn well please and no one can say anything about it. Yet, everyone knows that any other man who takes time off to change diapers will lose the respect of his colleagues and will lose out on promotions and bonuses. He will pay dearly for his political correctness.

But, ask yourself this: what made Zuckerberg an authoritative voice on gender politics? Nothing, in particular, you might say. Doesn’t he have a job? And shouldn’t he be doing it? And yet, he presumes to be setting an example for fatherhood, an example that very, very few other men can afford.

Or else, take the example of a less than youthful information tycoon, Michael Bloomberg. As you know, Bloomberg has become a crusader for gun control. He is totally committed to the cause. He is spending a lot of money—perhaps not for him, but for you and me it would be a lot of money—trying to disarm America.

One assumes that someone at some time convinced him, by impeccable logic, that if no one had guns then there would be no gun violence. One understands that such a thought can congeal into a conviction, even a dogma.

But then, Americans own nearly 300,000,000 guns, so militating against gun ownership is like tilting at windmills.

Besides, Bloomberg and other gun control advocates ignore the fact that someone is pulling the triggers on these guns. Calling for gun control and blaming the NRA absolves the shooters of moral responsibility for their actions. In fact, if these shooters come to believe that their actions will serve to indict the NRA, they might have a reason to commit gun crimes.

Crusaders absolve people of moral responsibility for mass murder, as happened after the San Bernardino massacre when the president and the New York Times responded by saying that the real problem was not Islamist extremists or even ISIS but the NRA. I am astonished that the Times reaction to the terrorist act was a front page call for unilateral disarmament.

People who are extremely rich, whether they are or are not young, are especially vulnerable to mental seduction. The technique was invented by Socrates. He was surely its master.

And doesn’t Platonism offer membership in a class of guardians, or philosopher-kings who can make decisions for all the rest of us. Why limit yourself to being a tech oligarch when you can be a philosopher-king?

Socratic dialogues are complex and brilliant seductions.  Their do not show how Socrates imparted knowledge to the rubes who found themselves dialoguing with him, but they show how a philosopher can seduce you into believing something that makes no sense. Something that makes no sense is effectively nonsense.

Socrates persuaded people that we never see real objects in the world, but that we can only see appearances. Another great Socratic philosopher, Freud persuaded no small number of people that their sole desire in life was to copulate with their mothers. A philosopher clown like Slavoj Zizek spews gibberish and watches his hapless followers fall over themselves to proclaim its brilliance. Since they do not understand it, they think that it is that much more brilliant. What counts is not whether it is brilliant, but whether it appears to be so.

It is always possible, to take a clearer example, for a prosecutor in a criminal trial to introduce evidence that appears to show that Col. Mustard killed Mr. Boddy in the library with a candlestick. But, appearances can be deceiving, and if Col. Mustard was in Brunei on the day of the crime, the appearances are just that: appearances.

But, you know very well that a skillful prosecutor can seduce a jury into ignoring the facts in favor of a narrative that turns out to be more satisfying. See the trial of one O. J. Simpson.

It is always possible to cherry-pick facts that appear to support a narrative. As long as you do not allow reality to enter the picture, you will have be able to persuade some people that the narrative is a higher truth.

For example, Kotkin points out that the tech oligarchs are in love with the climate change and global warming narrative. They support policies that they believe will delay the arrival of the apocalypse but are unconcerned with the effects that green policies visit on the less fortunate.

Not that there’s anything cynical about the tech oligarchy’s commitment to green policies. It is entirely sincere – the oligarchs really do believe, as do many liberal, Democratic types, that they are fighting the good fight. But that doesn’t mitigate the effects of their worldview.

Kotkin continues:

Perhaps nothing separates the oligarchy from the rest of business than its support for Obama’s climate-change policies. Many industries see these policies as a direct threat to their very existence, but this means little to moguls, who can shift their energy needs to cheaper locales, such as the Pacific Northwest or the South. In California, such policies have less an impact on the temperate coast than in the less glamorous interior. As one recent study found, the summer electrical bills in rich, liberal and temperate Marin come to $250 monthly, while in impoverished, hotter Madera, the average is twice as high.

And also,

Yet behind the media glitz, California is increasingly a bifurcated state, divided between a glamorous software- and media-based economy concentrated in certain coastal areas, and a declining, and increasingly impoverished, interior. Overall, nearly a quarter of Californians live in poverty, the highest percentage of any state, including Mississippi, and, according to a recent United Way study, close to one in three people are barely able to pay their bills.

Isn’t that what it means to be an oligarch?


Ares Olympus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ares Olympus said...

Stuart: ... opinion and knowledge are not the same thing.

Indeed, that's why we have blogs. But how are we going to educate these youth and keep them from temptation?

And everyone knows that California is the proving grounds for leftist social experimentation, funded by the surpluses of successful capitalism. It's impressive to have a article about California without mentioning high taxes. And we agree California is the master of modern progress seduction. They had that little water problem, but soon they'll borrow some of Israel's desalination technology and desert lawns will be green again.

I remember in the 1990s people were saying that Southern Californian gen-xers youth had terrible work ethics, and refused to take jobs on the bottom a company, and that midwesterners like Minnesotans were very welcome, and could get ahead there by working hard. I wonder if this is still true for the millenials, or maybe we've become as lazy as the west coasters of continual summer.

This article below might help answer, shows me sensible Millenials exist. If you're young, why give all your income to housing? Perhaps he's on his way to becoming the next Tech Oligarch when his stock options pay out?

At least he'll remember where he started, and perhaps he can sponsor some Toyko microapartments for his next investment project? Or he might go commie, perhaps he'll build cohousing like a dorm where 90% of living space is shared space. It's a brave new world for people trying to escape the modern debt slavery rat race, and someone has to win, might as well be me?
When 23-year-old Brandon headed from Massachusetts to the Bay Area in mid-May to start work as a software engineer at Google, he opted out of settling into an overpriced San Francisco apartment. Instead, he moved into a 128-square-foot truck.

The idea started to formulate while Brandon — who asked to withhold his last name and photo to maintain his privacy on campus — was interning at Google last summer and living in the cheapest corporate housing offered: two bedrooms and four people for about $65 a night (roughly $2,000 a month), he told Business Insider.

"I realized I was paying an exorbitant amount of money for the apartment I was staying in — and I was almost never home," he says. "It's really hard to justify throwing that kind of money away. You're essentially burning it — you're not putting equity in anything and you're not building it up for a future — and that was really hard for me to reconcile."
The idea started to formulate while Brandon — who asked to withhold his last name and photo to maintain his privacy on campus — was interning at Google last summer and living in the cheapest corporate housing offered: two bedrooms and four people for about $65 a night (roughly $2,000 a month), he told Business Insider.

"I realized I was paying an exorbitant amount of money for the apartment I was staying in — and I was almost never home," he says. "It's really hard to justify throwing that kind of money away. You're essentially burning it — you're not putting equity in anything and you're not building it up for a future — and that was really hard for me to reconcile."
Few expenses mean significant savings: "I'm going for a target of saving about 90% of my after-tax income, and throwing that in student loans and investments," he says.

No, I just can't be too worried about the Tech Oligarchs. Please just stay out of that drug subculture, even if some of it is free for a while. If you have to take drugs to unwind every night, it's time to set some boundaries.

Anonymous said...

The tech geniuses like the Chinese market-based totalitarian communist model. They like it a lot. There's a reason for that. The technocrat and techno-oligarch see rationalist possibilities in smart people running everything. Too bad it doesn't work in the long run. That's why STEM education is not an elixir for all that ails the American economic future. Actual live Homo sapiens in the wild don't follow delicious mathematical predictions as much as Gates, Bezos, Zuckerberg. Ellison, et al may believe. Theories about mathematical human Xanadus don't end well for actual human beings.