Tech bro gazillionaires, flailing around, desperate for people to consider them cool and “brilliant”: they’re everywhere! So everywhere as to be entirely ho-hum. But last week, Marc Andreessen produced a flailfest that was unparalleled, a real doozy of the form, with his “Techno-Optimist Manifesto.” Here, despite the incontrovertible evidence exploding all around him, the venture capitalist claimed that economic “growth is progress – leading to vitality, expansion of life, increasing knowledge, higher well being.”
Nearly ten years ago a number of critics pointed out how dumb and wrong Andreessen was about this very same issue. Unfortunately, IRL events since then have only proven critics of Techno-Optimism right, again and again: the drive to create wealth is the enemy, not the friend, of human well-being. The world is falling down around our ears, and technology could do nothing to prevent it. Climate change is rampaging, there are deadly wars in which hundreds of thousands of people have died, and continue to die, there are multiple famines, fascism is on the rise, and the mismanagement of the ongoing pandemic has killed untold millions of people—but hey, sure let’s keep on being “techno-optimists,” and keep pretending that the great big beautiful tomorrow is right around the corner, forever.
Anyhow, I’m writing to add one detail to last week’s outpouring of scorn against the Andreessen “manifesto,” because its failure is easily revealed in a single word.
Techne in ancient Greek means art, skill or craft, not “technology,” not “new tools.” It describes a human quality, closer to “technique” than to “technology.” It’s a branch of thought; the ability to make things. You cannot buy it. You can’t get a piece of the equity. Developed talent, resulting in the making of real things, by people—talent like Toni Morrison’s, or Gustavo Dudamel’s—that’s what techne means. The talent of visionary technologists like Tim Berners-Lee or Michael Hart (who made things), sure. Few venture capitalists appear to possess even an iota of this quality.
The arrogance of rich STEM-type guys like Andreessen makes them imagine, wrongly, that they somehow have an instinctive mastery of the language arts, which they ultimately consider to be beneath them. That skill has manifestly and persistently eluded Marc Andreessen, whose queasy combination of ignorance and pomposity will be very grating to anyone who likes good English writing, but what’s even more striking is that someone so rich and powerful doesn’t hang around with one single person who can keep him from committing these awful howlers.
He’s so insulated, so delusional, who is going to tell him he has no techne?
It’s human nature to rationalize the evils that have kept us fed and comfortable. That’s bad, but it’s so much worse that the billionaires can only see the world in ways that excuse and even exalt their own grotesque wealth and power, because they are shaping what remains of the future viability of this planet, apparently by accelerating us all over a cliff.