An overtold tale among those I’d classify as corporate libertarians is the idea of “building the future” over participating in societal discourse on social media. Popular proponents of this ideology, influential figureheads of the religion of startupism, loudly take to Twitter, proclaiming that “It’s time to build” or “Don’t argue on Twitter. Build the future.”
Don't argue on Twitter.— Balaji Srinivasan (@balajis) January 14, 2017
Build the future.
Though posing as neutral and freedom-loving libertarians, those same proposers are arguing for the opening of a new digital frontier - their sacred path towards progress and redemption in the eye of crisis. By coincidence, they also identify any post-modern attempt at reasoning with morals as capital “W” Wokeness and identify it as a newly emergent religion, quasi the remains of now unpopularized Christian beliefs.
Though always wanting to make their listeners believe the libertarian apolitical ideals towards not caring about other people’s business, “chief ideology officer” Andreessen asks the defining questions on a recently published episode of the Joe Rogan podcast: “Do we want a big part of society smoking weed constantly? Do we think that’s a good thing?” meanwhile probably underrating the audience’s skills in detecting tonality and the intentions behind his reasoning. “Wokeness,” as Andreessen and Srinivasan conclude, is the opposite of progress and productivity.
In fact, Andreessen, a manager at one of the biggest venture capital firms on the planet, famously announced in April 2020, during a time the first COVID-19 lockdowns were implemented, that “It’s time to build,” in a short essay published on his venture fund’s website, comically shaming the US government for its unreadiness in light of the dramatically unfolding events, meanwhile neglecting to reflect on his firm’s practices.
Andreessen, privileged to co-lead one of the biggest tech companies in the world: “Meta,” or how I like to call it: “Facebook,” rhetorically asks his following in the “It’s time to build” essay during a time most “plebs” were probably occupied with increasing or securing their physical well-being: “where the gleaming skyscrapers and spectacular living environments” are that we were promised?
While claiming to have “clearly” identified part of the problem as a lack of “foresight, a failure of imagination” and the “widespread inability to build.” His answer is simple and, in startup terms, “actionable”: “We need to want these things.” In that being brilliant and bald (not bold), Andresseen perfectly arbitrages the political vacuum the virus had suddenly created in political America: “We need to build, and I don’t care which side you’re on!”
However, in hind- and not foresight, Andreessen opposes a “gleaming” mistake in his thinking, a fallacy of great importance, by neglecting reflection on how his contribution to the country’s readiness has shaped its COVID-19 response. He, a citizen owning a > $100M mansion in California almost for a decade, is part of an infamous elite of venture capitalists who controls who gets to scale a startup company and who doesn’t have the guts. Slightly tangential, he also goes on record saying that “Hitler gave eugenics a bad name,” in Rogan’s latest interview.
Anyways, it is hence rather comical that while Andreessen focuses on the shortcomings of US-American infrastructure during a pandemic, his venture fund, over a multi-year period, has funded many vanity companies whose sole purpose was and is commercializing some mundane aspect of first world human life.
Among the top-listed portfolio companies, his firm a16z sports, below I’ve hand-selected a short list of true humanistic world-improvers to make the argument further that, indeed, Marc, “it’s time to build something useful”:
- Pinterest: A company that pioneered hijacking Google Search results for growth, probably decreasing global productivity from internet searches by a few percentage points.
- Groupon: Commercializing digital shopping vouchers for whatever reason. No idea who uses this crap or what it’s good for.
- Robinhood: Wall-street level of corporate greed and white-collar corruption (as the GME incident showed) but with a slightly better user interface than your average-greedy broker.
- Zynga: literally all they did is Farmville wtf
- Roblox: a video game
- Dollar Shave Club: An online subscription model for razors, where they don’t sell better razors; it’s just a different way of pricing them): you pay a monthly subscription.
- Imgur: An online image hosting provider to share nudes on Reddit.
- Instagram: Same, but with fewer nudes, a newsfeed but with many detrimental effects on society, as Francis Haugen has made the case.
So in a way, it isn’t truly surprising when Andreessen asks us, “where the gleaming skyscrapers” are, as it’s probably less to be understood as a question directed to his audience and more as an exercise of meditation or inward-looking. Because it’s true: There are no gleaming skyscrapers that a16z has managed to build. And it also hasn’t helped to prepare their country for a more appropriate pandemic response. Instead, what it achieved is to send you a package of razors monthly—a shave club.
Having been gifted the ultimate power of curating innovation by leading the world’s top venture capitalist firm of the planet’s biggest economy in the middle of an unprecedented pandemic, in a sense, Andreessen has come to his senses. Unconsciously he now understands: The venture capital industry truly isn’t structurally capable of funding a future full of utility.
And let me be clear in my messages and intentions when I say that I wholeheartedly agree with Andreessen’s call “to build,” however, I think that the guy is blinded by all the billions of dollars of stake that he has corporations around the world - such that an exclamation as “It’s time to build,” is less the outcome of “staying with the trouble” and much more a justification to preserve his position of power.
Although I’m not even an American, let me tell you that shaming US politics in their darkest hour and in a call “to build” isn’t a heroic act of patriotism - in fact, it is the opposite of American exceptionalism and “not asking what your country can do for you, but what can you do for your country.”
At the same time, with Andreessen still being invited as a guest on Joe Rogan’s by letting him make a case for Wokeism being harmful to society’s progress, there is also a fallacy in the tech scene’s thinking about consequentialism.
It’s suggested that Wokeism is this political or religious artifact, this fundamental attack vector in human social interaction and that ultimately, as Srinivasan’s put it, the ignoring of most or all moral, societal discourse is ultimately the “scared path to salvation” and to “building the future.”
Those that “believe” in the effectiveness of this principle are now under public scrutiny for implementing a military-like “For Wokeness issues: Don’t ask, don’t tell” doctrine in now-many publicly listed companies with the idea seeming to be that it would increase focus and productivity. But towards what goal? Higher click-through rates?
And while I, too, reject the notion of too direct and applied consequentialism when solving technical problems, I also want to point at the importance of what seems to be entirely neglected in the commercial field of developing software: Aesthetics.
This thought, and eventually that entire essay you’ve read so far, came to my mind when I watched a “review” of a “gleamingly-build” but totally misplaced train station in the middle of a loud highway intersection in Los Angeles. And I don’t even want to expand on the point much as it seems too obvious. Namely that, ignorance and the lack of accountability towards any form of consequentialism can lead to atrocious outcomes like this train station reviewed below:
It perfectly symbolizes the issue I take with Andreessen and other corporate “libertarians” undifferentiated calls “to build and ignore the noise”: Yes, it’s fine to build. But maybe don’t “move fast and break things” and don’t build or fund useless commercialized shit like Pinterest, Farmville, Groupon, or Instagram - as it leads to nothing in a global health crisis like that COVID-19 triggered.
More positively put: “Yeah, as always, it’s time to build, but the design principles, the discussions, the participation, the conceptualization, communication, the aesthetics, the humans, and outcomes of the process” matter more than the “gleam” and the “potency” that comes from “being able to build gleaming skyscrapers.”