Silicon Valley’s worldview is not just an ideology; it’s a personality disorder.

by Maria on November 15, 2023

1. Ideology

Silicon Valley’s ideology is this: Libertarianism for me. Feudalism for thee.

In more detail:

• Surveillance, manipulation and coercion; at first, just for profit, later by necessity, and ultimately for the hell of it

• Disruption and capture, not competition; monopoly or at least duopoly in each industry it envelops.

• Oligarchy to begin with, creeping autocracy for the win. Overseas autocrats the best of friends.

• Pick me or China wins.

• Ever-increasing inequality and the concentration of capital within a small, interconnected group who back each other’s companies and public moves.

• There is no such thing as human rights. There is only identity politics and culture war, which are profit centres.

• Far right white supremacism; libertarianism for white men, forced birth for white women. Eugenics for everyone else.

• A series of bullshit dark utopias designed to drive the hype and private equity cycles, distract and dazzle gullible politicians and policymakers, and convince everyone else that there is no alternative. E.g. crypto-currencies, Facebook’s Metaverse, AI and, of course, Mars.

• Systematic racism and misogyny in the workplace, the destruction of organised labour, the ever-worsening of working conditions, extreme inequality.

• Denigration of human agency and creativity, beginning with writers, artists and musicians. Systematic destruction of their ability to earn a living and suggest alternatives.

• Obsessive optimisation along narrow spectrums; externalisation of risks and costs to others, i.e. workers, ‘data subjects’, the public sector.

• Gutting of independent media, hatred of journalism in particular and accountability in general. Buying out or shutting down all opposition.

• State subsidies and tax dodging. Hollowing out the state. Making private – both in terms of ownership and secrecy – what used to be accountable and universal public services.

• The spoils to the strong, the costs to the weak. Might is right. Winner takes all. The state is an enforcer, not a support. Let the long tail starve.

Silicon Valley ideology is a master-slave mentality, a hierarchical worldview that we all exist in extractive relation to someone stronger, and exploit and despise anyone weaker. Its only relations to other humans are supplication in one direction and subjugation in the other, hence its poster-boys’ constant yoyoing between grandiosity and victimhood. Tech bros like Thiel, Musk and Andreesen are the fluffers in the global authoritarian circle jerk. Putin is the bro they’d be tickled to receive calls from, making them feel they’re on the geopolitical insider’s inside track. MBS is the bro they envy but tell each other scary stories about. Like most of them, MBS inherited his head start in life. He has all the money, all the power, a nice bit of geo-engineering on the side, and he dismembers uppity journalists without consequence. A mere billionaire like Thiel can only secretively litigate them out of business.

Silicon Valley ideology is organising economic, political and social relations into a zero-sum hierarchical chain in which democratic accountability is irrelevant, where beta politicians suck up to the alpha tech-oligarchs, offering their citizens as tribute.* To wit, the thoroughly interchangeable Matt Hancocks, Rishi Sunaks, Wes Streetings; all selling out UK citizens’ data and life chances for pennies on the pound and a glint of northern California’s reflected glory. (Grant Shapps is unusual in having had the initiative to craft and run his very own internet-based get-rich-quick scheme long before he became a government minister.) Most politicians just beg for scraps from big tech’s table, enacting the same alpha-beta hierarchy of the incels, but in power poses and slightly better suits. (The early, motivating animus of the Tories’ Online Safety Act was envious rage at Nick Clegg’s escape to become a tanned and wealthy Facebook lobbyist.)

Silicon Valley ideology is using private equity to buy a new marketplace, flood it with capital to flush out competitors, and use economic dominance to eviscerate working conditions and the cost of labour before jacking up the prices again, this time with the surplus all going to investors. It’s hyping specific technologies as universal, structural game-changers in accelerating hype cycles designed to fleece their marks quickly enough to drive growth and cash out before most people realise the technology simply doesn’t work as they were told. Bonus points for damaging trusted institutions (crypto) or labour (AI) along the way.

Silicon Valley ideology valorises disruption in the board-room but crushes it in the increasingly digitised and surveilled classroom, and grinds its face into the concrete floor of the Amazon warehouse. Disruption is for CEO’s and funders, not for people who protest pipelines or strike to limit labour exploitation. Disruption is something that is done to us. It is not something open to us to do.

Silicon Valley ideology is robbing states of tax and taking over the wrecked public services that result. (I write this from a country whose public tender for health data was bespoke tailored for Palantir. Soon my most private information will sit on Peter Thiel’s servers and there is nothing I can do to stop it. Meanwhile, I can’t get an appointment to see a GP.)

Silicon Valley ideology blames others for its harms. Its titans built the machines currently dismantling democracies. So, to absolve themselves of responsibility, they’ve come to see democracy itself as flawed and weak. Silicon Valley ideology quietly admits (its) freedom is not compatible with (our) democracy. So it wrecks it, destroying our information systems, gutting our infrastructure and essential services, and gathering digital lynch mobs to hound women and people of colour out of public life. Then, like the violent abuser who stands back, momentarily awed at what he has wrought, it says in a moment of startled vulnerability; ‘Look what you made me do.’ Its tools are beloved of autocrats and authoritarians, and as these tend to be the kind of men it most admires, Silicon Valley ideology has come to more publicly align itself with fascism. It claims the only fix for the violent disorder it foments is more surveillance, more control, at a significant mark-up.

Silicon Valley ideology worships ‘intelligence’, defined narrowly as mathematical and engineering capability, with all its IQ-related ties to racism, misogyny and eugenics. The worship of ‘intelligence’ drives ideologues’ obsession with billionaire fecundity and longevity, white natalism, space colonisation and the alleged existential threat of AI. The dark futures that set human mathematical intelligence against machine intelligence work not only to recast the grubby scrap for economic dominance as an epic battle against species extinction; they expand the horizon of Silicon Valley’s harm from the present, where its built-in biases increase inequality to cause harm and death every day, to the far future, when planetary super-brains might turn people into paper-clips. Their technology reflects this displacement. So, the most important harms are not harms, but risks, and the people best placed to address those are those building the machines that create them.

Silicon Valley ideology is split on this point, however. Its more radical cult, long-termism, centres the omnipotence phantasy of future AI risks, but rather than use these drummed up extinction scenarios to lock in control and economic dominance, the true believers speculate about which AI geniuses to assassinate, to avoid Armageddon. Other devotees fight theological battles similar to the number of angels who could fit on a pin-head, but about just how few survivors will be needed to re-seed humanity, after the nuclear war they believe necessary to forestall artificial generalised intelligence. It’s really something to see Silicon Valley’s more zealous children turn the trolley problem back on the founders.

Silicon Valley ideology says safeguarding intelligence in the future is more important than its systems systematically crushing and killing black and brown people right now. Long-termism grabs attention back from people being harmed, who were beginning to make too much noise. When confronted with his silence about AI and inequality researcher, Timnit Gebru, who was sacked when she criticised the built-in racism and misogyny of Google’s AI systems, British AI star Geoffrey Hinton told Rolling Stone that Gebru’s ideas “aren’t as existentially serious as the idea of these things getting more intelligent than us and taking over.” This tracks with the only critique of technology that Silicon Valley ideology permits – and amply funds via organisations like the Center for Humane Technology – the concern that algorithmic distraction hijacks smart people’s attention and time. Silicon Valley’s extractive systems are only a real problem when they come after what the tech bros most value, their own brain function and autonomy. Racism, for them, is not ‘existential’. Misogyny is a matter of indifference when your goal is to ‘extend the light of consciousness’ across the solar system.

It’s only when you look straight at Silicon Valley’s leaders you realise its core beliefs aren’t an ideology. They’re a personality disorder.

2. Personality disorder

Silicon Valley’s most famous funders and CEOs veer strongly into sociopathy, narcissism, and abiding Daddy issues. They are thin-skinned, vicious, gormless. Now middle-aged men, their emotional development ended when they made their first hundred million.

They talk about ‘community’ but cultivate slavish fandom and sic their fanboys and lawyers on anyone who disagrees, especially if they’re female, nonbinary, queer, black or brown.

Friendless because they’re incapable of acting as anyone’s true friend, they make a doctrine of misanthropy.

They fear laughter because they’re unfunny.

They fear contempt because they’re roiled by self-loathing.

They prize displays of masculinity because they are cowards.

Optimisation culture masks the abusive and bizarre relations with the human body, primarily their own. Dorsey’s eating issues. The penis electric shock guy. The one who transfuses the blood of his teenaged son. Musk’s compulsive reproduction with multiple women via scientised surrogate.

Partly, they just want to extend their own lives to match the two-century death-grip they plan for their companies. But the body-hacking and transcendence-drive express their horrified bafflement that mortality applies to them, too. Most of us have no choice but to come to terms with physical frailty and with what can be done to us because of the kind of body we’re in. Sick, disabled, fat, queer, black and brown people don’t get to opt out of their bodies, because society doesn’t let them forget for a moment. You might expect such people to wish most to be a brain in a jar or a ghost in a machine orbiting Mars, because of the micro and macro hurts they experience daily. But no, it’s those who won the lottery behind the Rawlsian veil – the wealthy and well, the white and male – who most fervently wish to discard their winning ticket. This tiny group of men self-isolate and self-optimise to excise the messiness of humanity from themselves, and now work diligently to exit from human concerns entirely. There is something fundamental about the human condition that they cannot, will not come to terms with. They require planetary levels of wealth to fuel their death drive to escape velocity.

These are terrible, terrible people. Damaged and cruel, vain and venal. I get why they came to power – by lying, cheating, bullying and stealing, same as any robber baron that ever existed. What’s curious and indefensible is how tightly packed in they are by concentric circles of mostly men who worship them; men who are powerful in their own right, but who accept a subordinate position in the implied pecking order of power. What’s going on with that?

3. Silence of the Sensibles
Individually, the Silicon Valley brats are nothing special. I’ve worked in tech for over two decades, and each arbitrarily made billionaire is as interchangeable an extrusion of post-war, northern Californian high-tech capitalism as was each identical food delivery app it produced. Brats will be brats, and capital is always gonna capital, but it’s the legions of merely moderately powerful enablers who maintain the tech billionaires’ status and ensure their untouchability.

The fawning regard of sovereign wealth fund managers, newspaper editors and senior journalists, industry-funded professors and think-tankers, tame NGO leaders, politicians and SPADs, and the whole masturbatory ourobouros of technology’s own influencer economy, insulates the tech billionaires from accountability. I’ll never get what these men see in Silicon Valley’s boy-kings. I don’t mean that rhetorically. There’s clearly an itch the tech oligarchs scratch for those who brush up against them, but looking at the exact same person, my brain clocks ‘predator’ at a thousand paces, and theirs seem to switch into a purring, excited mode that’s wholly unavailable to me.

(The silent and often determining role played by corporate PR should never be under-estimated. Let’s pause for a moment and think of how many individual PRs used to be journalists, before tech ate media, too.)

The sensibles identify with the aggressor, align themselves with money, flutter like fangirls in the face of power. They never say ‘far right’ or ‘fascist’. They pat themselves on the back for occasionally calling Silicon Valley’s titans ‘controversial’. They refuse even to acknowledge the intentional far right zone-flooding tech companies spray all over their prized values of civility and reason. Their craven servility seems to be based on a misapprehension that the fawning regard for the boy emperors of tech is reciprocal, that the sensibles represent, to those they serve, anything more than somewhat above averagely useful tools.

I read a paper copy of the Financial Times six days a week, and through all the business reporting of Twitter’s (“X”) travails this year, I’ve seen hardly anything about Musk’s insidious but growing antisemitism and overt white suprematism, the NDAs of assaulted women and his hounding of female public figures, the systemic racism in his factories, his illicit drug usage and emotional volatility, compulsive lying, personal amplification of Nazi content, and the conspiracy theories he now feels at total liberty to spread. (And no, FT, taking Musk’s tame biographer out to lunch isn’t journalism.) The silence of the sensibles lets business reporting live in a magical universe where politics doesn’t intrude, at least when the politics is on the right. There’s a consequence-free sweet spot where billionaire bootlicking and centrist civility co-exist. The merely influential are rarely the first to say the Emperor has no clothes (or is a Nazi in plain sight).

4. We are all very, very tired.
I, quite frankly, am tired. I find myself yet again in a conversation dominated by beneficiaries of a dirty system while the conscience, critique and force of collective action for alternatives are provided by women, and women of colour, predominantly.

Observer columnist John Naughton wrote two pieces a while back, pointing out that Silicon Valley’s most able critics are nearly all women or nonbinary. Of course, not all men, etc. etc. and, for damn sure, not all women either. But we – I speak as one of Naughton’s “formidable female tech critics” – have our own ideas and dreams, too. We didn’t grow up yearning to pen exquisite critiques of shitty ideologies. We’d like to build our own things, too, you know?
When one moderately powerful person steps up it emboldens others to act. It would signal to Musk’s shoulder-shrugging supporters inside US government – and especially the DoD – that you cannot run critical communications and defence infrastructure while being a far-right stooge sympathetic to foreign powers.

So, to the moderately powerful men who prop up and benefit from Silicon Valley’s ideology, and leave us the real work of fixing what it breaks, here is some of what we’ve learned and hope you might use:

Silicon Valley’s ideology and personality carry within them the seeds of its destruction. Its thin-skin means it can often be rattled and made to back down. (The trick is watching for the same bad act to be done again later, just more quietly.) Policymakers are rattled, too. And so, but only a little, are university VCs who still accept donations and suborn research. The social licence of Silicon Valley is now just a provisional permit, at risk of cancellation each time a new outrage is revealed or new legislation produced.

Silicon Valley’s totalising concentration makes its companies run increasingly afoul of competition authorities, who’ve belatedly come round to broader notions of economic harm and the possibilities for transatlantic cooperation.

Silicon Valley’s titans are so far removed from reality they can no longer distinguish between whims and crimes. The criminal lens is resisted by regulators, prosecutors and commentators alike, but it increasingly pulls systematic harms into focus.

The security lens is stricter again, as certain billionaires’ behaviour clearly flouts the requirements for security clearances they need for all those defence contracts. And their companies are far more brittle than they appear.

It’s not a lot, but it’s a start. Get to it.

  • About the politicians sucking up to tech oligarchs, I just want it out there that I wrote this six weeks before Rishi Sunak’s toe-curling AI Summit “fireside chat” with Elon Musk, where Sunak looked like some rich guy’s kid on work experience, mortifying the few people left who saw the UK as a serious country.



Cheryl Rofer 11.15.23 at 2:41 pm

Many thanks for writing this, Maria! For saying these things so clearly.

Lots of comments I could make, but I’ll start with one:

The fawning regard of sovereign wealth fund managers, newspaper editors and senior journalists, industry-funded professors and think-tankers, tame NGO leaders, politicians and SPADs, and the whole masturbatory ourobouros of technology’s own influencer economy, insulates the tech billionaires from accountability.

I would argue that this list is hardly of “sensibles.” Many of them share the Silicon Valley worldview and are complicit with the tech bros.

And yes, most of the really good critics are women, of color, and nonbinary, in various combinations of those characteristics. And I am very tired too of all this.


Giri Iyengar 11.15.23 at 3:35 pm



Alice McCain 11.15.23 at 3:57 pm

Thank for this insightful and bone baring exposition. I too am tired, and it gives me a good deep breath to hear truths and look behind the Wizard’s curtain at the little dudes pushing buttons.


bekabot 11.15.23 at 4:09 pm

“Dorsey’s eating issues. The penis electric shock guy. The one who transfuses the blood of his teenaged son. Musk’s compulsive reproduction with multiple women via scientised surrogate.”

At a bargain-basement level, the testicle tanners.

(Do not spurn the bargain basement; it’s the home of MLM, whose values and customs the tech titans have adopted. Remember that they didn’t create those values and customs; it’s just that they’ve found them useful enough to steal.)


Bruce Johnson 11.15.23 at 5:02 pm

It’s not exclusive to Silicon Valley; the article is just a lengthy extrapolation of Wilhoit’s Law

There must be an in-group whom the law protects, but does not bind, alongside an out-group whom the law binds, but does not protect”

As time goes on I am more and more impressed with this simple distillation of human political behavior. It goes well beyond politics.


nastywoman 11.15.23 at 5:39 pm


on the other hand there is no better place in America for being an immigrant.
Even better than being in London.
(and that should be worth something?)


Jan Wiklund 11.15.23 at 6:13 pm

I’m apparently not “in”. I would like some links to examples of the abovementioned. Otherwise I can’t make anything of it.


A Dexter Chapin 11.15.23 at 6:23 pm

As Strauss and Howe said in 1995, there would be a group of scavenger oligarchs creating a crisis in the mid-2020s. These are indeed the scavengers fighting together over the remnants of thee past. By somewhere around 2035, they will be wondering why all those dollars didn’t buy loyalty from the AR-15 idolators at the gates. Their food will be gone. Their water will be scarce, and they will be powerless to do anything about it. Isolation will kill them. Of course millions of others will die on the route there. It is obvious when they start challenging each other on measuring their dicks that they are on their last legs.


Alex SL 11.15.23 at 9:27 pm

Well written.

The personality cults around clearly unhinged billionaires who would grind their fawning fanboys into Soylent Green if they could make a buck from it are an absolute mystery to me.

I get the general principle: people who have some measure of wealth, and be it just a tech bro having a well-paying job at Amazon as opposed to being unemployed, want to believe they deserve that wealth more than those who don’t have it; thus they need to believe we have a meritocracy; thus they need to defend the riches of billionaires as deserved, because if those extreme rewards aren’t deserved, there is no meritocracy, and that would bring their own deserts into question. It is like when somebody who inherited a farm might defend the king inheriting the entire nation, because if inheritance of privilege is questioned, how do I deserve owning my farm more than my peasant labourer does?

But that only gets me to apologetics for billionaires as a concept. Where the rabid cult of personality comes from is still unclear to me. People are weird.


Ray Davis 11.15.23 at 9:59 pm

I spent (as in expense of spirit) 35 years of my life in software, and this is a fine summary of where we’ve stranded ourselves, even if it wasn’t where all of us hoped to go.


J-D 11.15.23 at 11:18 pm

As Strauss and Howe said …



Ebenezer Scrooge 11.15.23 at 11:45 pm

I’m the kind of person who wants to respond to every good post with a “yes, but.” Maria’s post is too good for this kind of response. And it is too complete for a “yes, and.” So I’ll just say: “Glory!”


Doug Healy 11.16.23 at 12:41 am

It’s the same old shit in a shiny new bowl.


David Forsyth 11.16.23 at 1:07 am

LibertAryans gonna LibertAryan!

(Nice to see “The Californian Ideology” get renewed attention in any form.)

We were warned.


Moz in Oz 11.16.23 at 1:53 am

I appreciate the suggestion that solutions are possible and your willingness to fight for them.


Linnaeus 11.16.23 at 2:04 am

Great piece, and a great series.


dp 11.16.23 at 2:13 am

Well put. Thanks for this affirmation that we aren’t all crazy.


KT2 11.16.23 at 2:47 am

Bravo Maria. It strikes me academics need to do a dump and I applaud you for it. I appreciate the call to action: “… it’s a start. Get to it.”. OK.

See a Virginia Law below to provide some upside and a phrase needing legislation everywhere.

Maria and others in this series seem to have fullfilled this brief, particularly the pathos;
“We encourage fellow academics to attend to the metaverse’s techno-political, pathematic, and parodic notions—not only the techno-optimistic, the taxonomic, and the earnest (Elmasry et al.,2022; Lee et al., 2021; Smart et al., 2007).”

From “The Metaverse’s Thirtieth Anniversary: From a Science-Fictional Concept to the “Connect Wallet”
Published: 22 July 2023

“As Turkle(2004 [1984], p. 14) stated, “those who write the simulations get to set the parameters” and those who define language get to define the concepts”

“We instead examine contemporary discourse about the metaverse in parallel with the metaverse’s sophisticated antecedents, conceived by Baudrillard (1994 [1981]), Turkle (2004 [1984]), and Lacan (1978 [1972]). These are as follows: simulation,Footnote 1 networked identities, and suggestible consumers hooked up to a Matrix-like capitalist network. This parallel (para-) position, true to Stephenson’s Snow Crash (1992), entails parody (Nobus and Quinn, 2005), and—thanks to the Big Other of online surveillance (Khader, 2022; Zuboff, 2015)—a modest touch of paranoia as well.

“Following a review of texts by Baudrillard, Turkle, and Lacan that predate Snow Crash (Stephenson,1992), as well as an empirical inquiry, we propose a subtle conceptual re-orientation (Fig. 7). We also contribute a didactic, reduced schema of the techno-capitalist metaverse (Fig. 8) and a series of hermeneutic twists.”

Lots of linked references for those who want to delve into the background of “Silicon Valley’s worldview is not just an ideology; it’s a personality disorder.”.

I’d be interested if Maria or others find the “propose a subtle conceptual re-orientation (Fig. 7). We also contribute a didactic, reduced schema of the techno-capitalist metaverse (Fig. 8) and a series of hermeneutic twists.” beneficial and able to be enacted.

Unfortunately Maria is (unknowingly?) EXACTLY correct about… “gathering digital lynch mobs to hound women and people of colour out of public life.”

Civitai, “where people can list “bounties” for others to create AI models of specific targets.” And “We’ve Raised $5.1M in Seed Funding Led By Andreessen Horowitz Read more below” via the penultimate penultimate letter of the English alphabet. 

“Andreessen Horowitz is a key investor in Civitai, an AI image-generating service that reportedly profited from nonconsensual porn generated using its platform. 404Media’s Emanual Maiberg reports that job listings exposed the link, and that the company did not respond to inquiries.

       “…also known as a16z, the influential Silicon Valley venture capital firm that was an early investor in Facebook, Lyft, and other tech giants, has invested in Civitai, a giant platform for sharing AI models that enables and profits from the creation of AI generated nonconsensual sexual images of real people. That includes launching a feature where people can list “bounties” for others to create AI models of specific targets.

“The rushed-out investment announcement at a friendlier venue is funny.”

A rarity. It seems Marcus Simon (Dem) Virginia is ahead, in law, of the “where beta politicians suck up to the alpha tech”

(Proposed by the Senate Committee for Courts of Justice on February 11, 2019)
(Patron Prior to Substitute–Delegate Simon)**
A BILL to amend and reenact § 18.2-386.2 of the Code of Virginia, relating to unlawful dissemination or sale of images of another; falsely created videographic or still image; penalty.

Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Virginia:

That § 18.2-386.2 of the Code of Virginia is amended and reenacted as follows:
§ 18.2-386.2. Unlawful dissemination or sale of images of another; penalty.

“… created by any means whatsoever, including a falsely created videographic or still image,”

** Marcus Simon
“Simon’s father, Samuel A. Simon, worked for Ralph Nader and was a member of “Nader’s Raiders.” He was one of the first 13 full-time lawyers to found the original Public Interest Research Group (PIRG)”.


AdrianD 11.16.23 at 3:50 am

Not sure that cryptocurrencies were ever “trusted institutions”….but the rest is fair


km 11.16.23 at 5:10 am

Seems like a fair summing up, unfortunately. Though personally I don’t like labeling tech as Silicon Valley.

One friend has worked for a series of the billionaire bros and it is a mystery why he has a fatal attraction to them. Each time he falls away from one, he somehow is sucked in by another. Awful to watch him tear himself apart trying to please those people. I don’t think the “sensibles” like that will ever break free – they cannot be counted on at all.

On the other hand, another potential avenue toward fixing things was pointed out by Aimee Nishimura in an article on Lawfare. She made the point that AI technology that relies on images and biometric data should probably be categorized and treated as human subjects research. I’m going to wish IRBs galore on Musk and his ilk.


MFB 11.16.23 at 7:52 am

This is a good post. Although, expanding on km’s observation, it does seem to me that the source of the problem is not tech, nor California, but rather the complete degradation of our political culture which makes it possible for ghastly charlatans to become national heroes.


TM 11.16.23 at 8:25 am

Adrian: “Not sure that cryptocurrencies were ever “trusted institutions””

I think the point is that cryptocurrencies were designed to damage trusted institutions.


Shirley0401 11.16.23 at 1:43 pm

RE: Alex SL @ 9

A possibility: there are a lot of people who seem to really want require a hero to worship. Thanks to our broken press and the way the majority of our entertainment media loves to retell the same stories over and over again, they’ve got to take them where they find them. And since so many of us are fundamentally lazy &/or incurious, they’re going to take the heroes that are most visible and obvious (see above, re: media, news and otherwise).


NomadUK 11.16.23 at 1:46 pm

Ray Davis@10: I spent (as in expense of spirit) 35 years of my life in software, and this is a fine summary of where we’ve stranded ourselves, even if it wasn’t where all of us hoped to go.

You are far from alone in that. I once revelled in crafting lovely bits of code that I hoped would help make people’s lives easier. The writing appeared on the wall when Steve Jobs and Jonathan Ivy gutted the Human Interface group; one of its senior members, I recall, told me he simply had to stop caring because he was on the verge of having a heart attack. When the Human Interface Guidelines went into the dustbin and form utterly overwhelmed function, I began the long, slow spiral into despair over the entire enterprise.


steven t johnson 11.16.23 at 2:30 pm

When pressed to reduce my political program to the short and easily understood, I came up with “Kill all the billionaires.” This post doesn’t have that much content I’m afraid. I’m not quite sure it’s the bad taste of the 90% rather than the aspirant 9% that is lowering the tone.

But I must note that the adulation of the tycoon (and the occasional vituperation) long precedes “Silicon Valley.” Mammon is the one true God and the nimbus of His favor, wealth, doesn’t shine, it blinds? Nonetheless, also, the cliche of “religion” as a label for enthusiasm for any ideas you dislike more often reveals inexperience with real religions than anything else.


Carlos Augusto González 11.16.23 at 3:00 pm

Paris 1789: Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. What you describe in this post loosely reminds me of the Girondins allied with the Montagnards and their fate in 1793 under the “reign” of Donald Roberpierre. The latter’s head ended up in the same basket as that of the formers!


Alex SL 11.16.23 at 9:08 pm


Yes, I guess that is the only logical explanation. I am just puzzled because it doesn’t click for me. A few years ago, a more senior colleague said something to me to the effect of, surely you also have a role model, a famous scientist you admire and try to emulate? And I had to shrug and shake my head. I can look at others in my field and see in them both admirable qualities I may want to emulate and mistakes I want to avoid, but as for putting one person like Stephen Gould onto a pedestal, no, why would I do that? It seems obvious to me that hero worship can only lead to disillusionment or to severe cognitive dissonance trying to maintain it, because we all have flaws, and I instinctively felt that way even before I thought about it enough to come up with a sentence like this. Again, puzzled.


John 11.16.23 at 9:42 pm

If living were a thing that money could buy…

the rich would live and the poor would die.


MrMr 11.16.23 at 11:19 pm

km @20, this is incidental, but I looked at the Aimee Nishimura article you reference and she inexplicably omits an extremely important word from the regulatory definition of human subjects research–human subjects research requires either intervening on a subject, or handling identifiable private information about them. By contrast, researchers regularly use identifiable but public information, and this does not require consent or trigger regulatory oversight. For example: the text of president’s speeches is of course identifiable, but political scientists do not require the consent of a president to do content analysis on their speech, since their speech is public. Any biometric data obtained by scraping the web, via observations of individuals in public (eg CCTV) or etc., would for similar reasons even if identifiable not be private, and using it is not human subjects research.

I also don’t believe that biometric data is per se identifiable. If it were, deidentification would be impossible not just in the desired case of regulating AI model development, but across a huge swath of medical research. This issue is less glaring than skipping an inconvenient word, but still.

As someone who works in research oversight, I’m hesitant to wish IRBs galore on anyone; Musk is a twit but I think that trying to punish him and others by taking broader and broader views of “human subjects research” sounds like a terrible idea. The rules we have only work and make sense, insofar as they do, because they are deliberately understood to be limited in scope, both in terms of what activities they cover and by which actors.


Richard Keller 11.16.23 at 11:28 pm

The main focus of the global economy over the last 40 years, with the neo-liberal coups marking the openness of this emergence, has been to increase inequality. But missing (avoided, hid) in these discussions is the description of the long historical, cultural collective influence. The influence from the collective may be stronger than ever before, and missing an open discussion of it is hindering analysis of and pushback at the disoriented angst heavy so-called rabbit-hole thinking and behavior so common today.

The nature of The Post Truth Era where denial has become mainstream may be categorized as a ‘personality disorder’, but the historical / cultural influence from the collective needs to be openly discussed.


Phil H 11.17.23 at 2:36 am

Well written, but… only a diagnosis, not a treatment plan?
Look at these two things that Maria says, both of which I firmly believe to be true:
“These are terrible, terrible people. Damaged and cruel, vain and venal…Individually, the Silicon Valley brats are nothing special.”
Like… people. I’m afraid that if you’re thinking that there’s some cadre of undamaged, lovely people waiting in the wings, and they would come and make society better if we could just get rid of the landowners jews communists white men current crop of bad guys, then you’re dreaming.
So the treatment will involve better regulation, rather than simply hoping for better people to come and take over.
In the meantime, remember Jimmy Wales still exists. If you spend all your time watching the people who shout “look at me,” you’ll inevitably find that you see only preeners. But the others are out there.


nastywoman 11.17.23 at 7:22 am

and after checking all the points I still ‘sink’ that Wall Street is worst –
By a lot!
(as in the Archaeology of Hate Wall Street came waaay before Silicon Valley and everything related to Inequality stems from there and just poisoned Palo Alto too)


nastywoman 11.17.23 at 7:40 am

And what happened?
When we came to Silicon Valley the first time -(just with the bursting of the housing bubble and the rise of blogs) the valley was the place of hope – with the utmost openminded, innovated people – essentially NOT totally driven by money but with ideas of ‘a better world’.
And so what happened?
As there are still a lot of people in Silicon Valley who are STILL driven with Ideas of a better world – and even in some twisted ways some of the Billionaires.
Is it because their ideas of a better world are so twisted or because not only Silicon Valley made very lose Sweatpants fashionable and as Karl had said: If you wear such pants you have lost control of your life?

Or is that too… Sillycon?


Kevin L 11.17.23 at 1:30 pm

I just returned to Bristol after more than 20 years in Silicon Valley. I think Maria’s analysis is way off.

My summary of Silicon Valley is that it is a place of extremes. Extreme wealth. Extreme poverty all around it. Extreme blending of races (Maria’s stuff about racism is nonsense IMO — I don’t think there is a more multi-racial, multi-cultural place on earth). But also more extreme Libertarians & Tumblr Liberals & Capitalists & Randians & Wokerati & MAGAs & LGBT Advocates & Extropians & more of everything.

Someone like Maria can look at the Valley and paint any picture she wants to paint. The people Maria describes are definitely there but they are a minority. Musk and Andreeson are not typical of anything.

The only thing that unites everyone in Silicon Valley is the dream of the next big idea that will change the world.


nastywoman 11.17.23 at 6:42 pm

‘I don’t think there is a more multi-racial, multi-cultural place on earth.
The only thing that unites everyone in Silicon Valley is the dream of the next big idea that will change the world’.

And that should be worth something?


km 11.17.23 at 6:48 pm

MrMr @29 – re punishing Musk via IRB, that was not meant seriously, if for no other reason than that he’d just make it someone else’s problem.

Shame to hear that the rules applying to human subjects research aren’t immediately applicable, but seems to me that it might still be worth considering that point of view when thinking about appropriate regulation of companies that are built on human data. At least there is some history that could indicate what measures work and what have been useless.

I think maybe “identifiable” has some secret meaning that I am unaware of, since facial recognition technology (for instance) seems to be based on the ability to identify someone.


Psychoceramicist 11.17.23 at 8:31 pm

I don’t think there’s much here except that wealth and power corrupt people, almost everyone, and absolute wealth and power corrupts absolutely. Tech CEOs accrued massive wealth and power at greater scale and speed than any other group in human history, and a few billion dollars can turn a smart, nerdy 25 year old guy with a sci-fi informed world view who would have otherwise been a normal engineer into a monster.

Almost anyone posting on this page would be susceptible to being just as badly behaved. It’s not as if academics aren’t legendary for possessing the same seeds of ambition, resentment, and desire for status that the Silicon Valley billionaire boys have. There are people in the world that are more or less immune from this sort of corruption out of a deep spiritually rooted sense of humility and connection to humanity, but they aren’t here or in Silicon Valley. Think of the glurgy stories about the occasional teacher or postal worker who gives a huge sum of savings to some school or charity after their death.


J-D 11.18.23 at 4:11 am

I don’t think there’s much here except that wealth and power corrupt people, almost everyone …

Has my wealth corrupted me? I don’t know. How could we tell?


MrMr 11.18.23 at 4:59 am

km @35

Per 45 CFR 46 section 102, “Identifiable private information is private information for which the identity of the subject is or may readily be ascertained by the investigator or associated with the information.” If image search is now sufficiently good, this may make a picture of a face identifiable information, because an investigator could readily associate the real person with the picture of them by searching for it online (though in many–all?–contexts a picture of a face on its own would not still not be private identifiable information, since how your face looks is not private).

But the mistake Nishimura makes is treating ALL information which is uniquely associated with an individual–any biometric data–as therefore identifiable. But it is possible to have biometric data that investigators cannot readily associate with anyone. I could have a database of a million fingerprints, and each fingerprint might be unique to some person out there, but I may still have no practical way of going out and “readily ascertaining” which person each fingerprint belongs to. Maybe I don’t even know if the people in this database are currently alive, or which countries they are from. More broadly, biological samples containing DNA are uniquely associated with some individual, but nonetheless they still typically cannot be readily associated with anyone once the name and other identifying information is stripped away–which is why the common practice of analyzing deidentified samples is not human subjects research per the regulations. Fortunately too, I think, because that research is routine, valuable, and poses minimal to zero risks to the original sources of the samples.


LFC 11.18.23 at 1:15 pm

J-D @37

How much wealth do you have? ;)


Psychoceramicist 11.18.23 at 6:30 pm

Yeah, there’s comfortably-well-off wealth and then there’s wealth at the level where people stop telling you “no” and “that’s a bad idea” and life just becomes an endless series of getting what you want.


engels 11.18.23 at 7:07 pm

I don’t think there is a more multi-racial, multi-cultural place on earth.

Or male-dominated…

Anyway that just reflects America as a whole (or the “blue” part of it) which is “multiracial”/“multicultural” but still rather boringly monolithic in lots of ways (not least in its ubiquitous consumerism, philistinism and worship of the almighty dollar).


hix 11.18.23 at 7:31 pm

That was darker than expected, all of it, not just this post.

One could easily go on with the personality disorder diagnosis. The mid-ranks probably often got avoidant or obsessive compulsive ones (if not the same as their bosses).

In a world where you have to make an effort to distinguish the Instagram profiles of those who got an avoidant and the ones who get a narcissistic one, the over-representation of some diagnosis is only a not too big part of the explanation.

Silicon Valley is an overlap of many cultural extremes, with incredible amounts of money and social status thrown at them. US culture as such is already one of those, Trump did manage to become president after all. Academic careers in general and at US elite Universities in particular tend to share no small part of those cultural extremes to a non-trivial extent.

Maybe that is one reason no post even mentioned what to me seems a core aspect, amplifying all the other problems since decades: That Silicon Valley workers are forced to build all their life around work, with extreme long hours and a huge diffusion of the private/work spheres. There is just no time to even have any social contacts besides the de facto professional, or time to reflect. It’s an almost join a sect type of lifestyle. People just keep on going under, considering the amount of privilege very subjective pressure as there is just no time or alternative reference group left to question anything. The typical prior life path – getting into (with only upper 10%, not my parents can buy a spot type of privilege) and performing well at some elite University is already the perfect wrong preparation for that.

So the popular extroverted kids from high school now become programmers or finance maths types and realize there is a lot of money in it. Really not all that much of a difference, the alcoholic finance/tech bro as a new archetype besides the nerd is just another way to dysfunctionally deal with such an environment.

Maybe even Elon Musk would be a much nicer and healthier person, if the appropriate thing to do to get the praise narcissist want so much would not be to work insane hours and brag about it/ even exaggerate them.

If the only problem with Silicon Valley culture would be that the elites make more stupid decisions for the rest of us, that would be bad enough, but stupid as we humans are, it all tends to diffuse everywhere as we slavishly emulate all the stupid things the high status people do further and further down.


nastywoman 11.18.23 at 9:41 pm

and as there is – and was so much confusion in this seminar about confusing ‘Musk’ for Silicon Valley (and not for ‘Mars’ – for example) and projecting nearly all of Musk’s miserable and weird character traits on such a generally pleasant valley and it’s generally pleasant people – let’s finally conclude that Musk is far more ‘Austin TX’ –
or actually some kind of Alien from –


LFC 11.18.23 at 9:48 pm

engels @42

ubiquitous consumerism, philistinism and worship of the almighty dollar

H.L. Mencken and Sinclair Lewis say hello.

The “blue” parts of the U.S. are not that monolithic actually. For one thing, there are some blue parts where people’s incomes don’t permit “consumerism” as that word is generally understood.


J-D 11.19.23 at 4:43 am

Has my wealth corrupted me? I don’t know. How could we tell?

How much wealth do you have?

Is that the test? Is there a cut-off level, with wealth above that level corrupting people and wealth helow that level not corrupting people? If that’s the test, what’s the cut-off level?

Yeah, there’s comfortably-well-off wealth and then there’s wealth at the level where people stop telling you “no” and “that’s a bad idea” and life just becomes an endless series of getting what you want.

To me, my life doesn’t feel like an endless series of getting what I want, but maybe nobody’s life feels like that to the person actually living it?


R. Alan Gladstone 11.19.23 at 8:31 pm

The New Imbisilicons.


Austin Loomis 11.20.23 at 4:18 am

J-D skrev:

To me, my life doesn’t feel like an endless series of getting what I want, but maybe nobody’s life feels like that to the person actually living it?

Have “people stop[ped] telling you ‘no’ and ‘that’s a bad idea’”? That might be one way to tell.


J-D 11.20.23 at 5:24 am

Have “people stop[ped] telling you ‘no’ and ‘that’s a bad idea’”? That might be one way to tell.

Is it? Nobody’s said that to me today; nobody said that to me yesterday; does that mean they’ve stopped?


Peter T 11.20.23 at 12:38 pm




J-D 11.21.23 at 9:56 am



Is your saying ‘No’ to me enough to prove that my wealth has not corrupted me? That seems too easy.


billy-bob 11.26.23 at 7:30 pm

YAWN! The latest incarnation of the 1% against the 99.

Just with new tech and billions is all.


JPL 11.27.23 at 6:02 am

It seems that indeed this is a time for the poets! In the face of not just these domination fantasies, but the pathological conventional repertoire that still produces Putin, Likud and Hamas, the Trump voter, and so much more, all while our globe is headed toward the Venusian, we’re going to need poets. (I mean serious poets.)


Jean Hominal 11.28.23 at 10:37 am

Thank you for laying it out so clearly.

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