Feb 082014
happy guy with lots of money

Adam Curtis in his wonderful BBC series All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace discusses how Ayn Rand influenced many in the tech industry.

Having been accused of being a ‘techno-utopist’ Curtis’ story is a good reminder of the limits of technology and how the future doesn’t usually turn out how we imagine.

The Ayn Rand influence is worth reflecting on as Rand’s libertarian outloook is shared by many in the technology industry – from the lowest PC technician to the highest flying software mogul.

Rand’s beliefs are best portrayed in her own words, in a 1958 interview with Mike Wallace she tells of how she believes in “challenging the moral code of altruism.”

In Rand’s world view it was the duty of each man to achieve their own happiness, self sacrifice and caring for other is weakness.

That technologists should have those views is curious in that the entire computer industry, the internet and Silicon Valley itself is the result of massive US government spending during World War II and the Cold War.

An more delicious irony is the centre of Silicon Valley, Stanford University, is itself the result of a bequest by railroad tycoon and former Californian governor Leland Stanford.

So self-sacrifice, altruism and government spending forms the basis of the entire modern tech industry – something that computer industry’s libertarians ignore, if they are conscious of history at all.

An even bigger contradiction is the belief that the internet dismantles government and corporate power – one of the lessons of Edward Snowden’s revelations is how comprehensively intelligence agencies monitor online communications.

When the history of Silicon Valley and the 21st Century tech boom is written, one of the compelling themes will be the contrast between the industry’s beliefs and reality.

The final chapters of that history will describe how that contrast between reality and beliefs is resolved.

  5 Responses to “Technology’s Ayn Rand fallacy”

  1. The biggest lie Valleyans tell themselves is that they got there on their own, through their own intellectual gifts and perspiration. Few know the true history of the Valley or wish to acknowledge it if they do because it explodes their faulty perceptions. That is, the Valley is the result of 60 years of unprecedented government intervention and transfer payments to support an eternal war and without which the Valley would never have existed.

  2. The fallacy would be that BBC production but it’s just too silly to be granted that status, it is simply a conga-line of nonsensical connections, malicious speculation, preposterous rationalisations, arbitrary paranoia all hobbled together into a self contradictory conspiracy theory – no one who knows anything about the issues and people involved could possibly take it seriously.

    btw the above post implies complete ignorance of Ayn Rand’s philosophy.

  3. I think your comment about the contrast between the beliefs and the reality probably says it all – especially if there’s a dollar to be made.

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