Talia Jane's Big Reveal: It is the Best of Times; It Is the Worst of Times

Something to notice about this week's latest brouhaha over whether Silicon Valley is the purple unicorn savior galloping toward planetary prosperity or the literal incarnation of living Satan (my vote's on both -- i'm engaging in hedginess), is that no one is disputing whether or not the conditions she describes are true. It is not The Facts of the Case that we are in disagreement about.

It is ideology.

In one ideology, it is perfectly OK for a billion-dollar food-delivery service to both pay and treat workers like shit. Reasons include:

  1. "Those workers are Millennials, and everyone knows that all the Millennials are lazy good-for-nothings, so by the Law of Transitive Neoliberalism those whiny workers are actually being paid *FAR more* than they're worth, which is nothing."
  2. "Sure, I had to go through the same bullshit myself. But it was so much worse back when i did it 5 years ago, LIKE YOU WOULDN'T EVEN BELIEVE HOW MANY WAYS IT WAS UPHILL IN 8 FEET OF SNOW BITCH -- and everyone should have to suffer like I did (otherwise it undermines the sacrifices I made and diminishes me because my self-worth is defined by a system of external rewards that we are in direct competition over)."
  3. "I'm older now and have learned to be more obsequious to authority if I expect to put food on the table. For God's sake if you're going to insist on being contrarian, have the decency to do it in the privacy of your own home."
  4. Business, duh. Which is far more important than your stupid human entitlement to *food*, health, meaningful work and other such Millennial fantasy luxuries. Business means money. Everyone wants money! Anyone who doesn't increasingly want more and more and more money is a feckless weakling who deserves to be robbed in broad daylight by someone more alpha who had the foresight to get an MBA and needs a third yacht.
  5. Let Them Eat Code: Those who offer the ever helpful advice of leaping back through time to follow a different educational path that *should* have led quite obviously to programming, as anyone could have predicted 20 years ago when they started school (or certainly by 10-12 years ago, because if you aren't programming by then, when LITERALLY EVERYONE both is now and was then trying to get girls to pay attention to code, then by gum you will never get funded in Silicon Valley. It's just too late for you!). But failing that foresight, why don't you just fire up Codeacademy a couple of times in your spare moments and I'm sure recruiters will be trailing you in no time. Because if there's one thing we can all agree on, it is that the developer community is insanely welcoming to the newcomer. *Especially* young women (and old women (so long as we haven't passed our Last Hireable Day)). And also especially to the class of Old People Who Just Learned to Code on Coursera -- recruiters fucking love that shit!
  6. "Well, admittedly the Bay area has a few problems re: cost of living and income inequality, but really all it needs is some better public transportation to get the poors from the sticks in to work in the city and things would be right as rain." -- I see this as both a facet of the "Bullshit Helping" problem (aka generating the appearance of concern, usually on Twitter, without having the slightest intention of lifting a finger) as well as the "We're On Speed" problem, where everything is so yakety sax both economically and culturally that Lifeboat Ethics / Martial Law / Threat Level Orange have been in effect for long enough now to psychologically damage the country. Combine it with the reductionist worldview of solving all problems in isolation, and it's the perfect formula for myopic throwaway tweets about how surely these enormously sprawling and ill-maintained systems just need a little tweaking here and there. Maybe these poor losers just need to upgrade Python to v.3 or some shit and the machine will start running properly again. In any case we strongly suspect user error as the culprit.

All of these are ultimately subsumed by the overarching unassailable truths of the American Dream: that infinite opportunity lurks at the bottom of every crevasse (just jump in! trust us! you'll pay off that $200k combined undergrad and grad school loan pile in like 3 SECONDS), all matters of hiring are purely meritocratic and Platonically impenetrable by fundamental human bias, and anyone who has the slightest bit of trouble capitalizing on capitalism is a worthless piece of trash with nothing to offer our civilization.

And the other ideology is all that slow, plodding, doe-eyed naivety of the liberal Democratic party who wastes (non-money producing!!) time giving a flying fuck about Fairness and Equal Opportunity and Civil Rights and all that boring rot. You know: the SJW type. The killjoys.

I think Tori Amos summed the situation up best, though, with her post-post-modern foresight from 1992: whether it's manufacturing objects or manufacturing code, somehow most of us still feel like cogs in a vast Rube-Goldberg machine that seems like an exasperatingly overwrought attempt at producing a healthy society.

Doin' it to ourselves

The reality is, each new generation will seem "more entitled" than the last, by the last-gen themselves -- and by their own design. How can it otherwise be? If the youth *weren't* more entitled, it couldn't reconcile with the idea of progress. If we believe that our science and technology and economics and all of our wonderful new innovations are improving society -- the way we keep saying we do -- then there is no way around the fact that the generations that follow will have escalating expectations and demands based on the relatively improved conditions they've grown up in their whole lives, versus the relative deprivation we elders (get off our damn lawns!!) faced.

Conditions that we, in fact, have expressly aimed to give them. Bent over backwards, in many cases -- certainly from parents to their children. The idea of "making a better life for your kids" is a centuries old cliché. And in society writ large, we are ever embarked on a breathless programme of technological bewonderment -- from World's Faires to radio kits to Apple keynotes, there is always the carrot of a Better Tomorrow dangling ahead of us, just out of reach. Yet somehow we ourselves never quite arrive there in that promised future, and more infuriating still we fail to find it a pleasant experience when our progeny seem to take it all quite for granted... the ingrates! Maybe if they had known -- throughout all the centuries of struggle and bloodshed for human rights and social justice -- that bratty internet-addled trolls would one day aggressively disparage the quaint notion of a Social Justice Warrior who fought and died only to tragically pass on the tools of Increased Narcissism, they'd never have bothered to risk their lives.*
*except still they probably would have, because they were people with some fucking strength of character, like "shirtless on a bear" fearless kind of character (the Teddy Roosevelt kind, not the Putin kind obv) not to mention contrarian "help the poor" character
From an ontological perspective, we really can't have it both ways:

  1. We can either take the "progress" and the (what we consider) negative externalities to increasing entitlement, or
  2. make a concerted effort to balance it out via other means by increasing humility and empathy by some other mechanisms, incentives, and/or policies (would require some serious "pivot" towards focusing on the inner realm and examining some difficult aspects of human nature more acutely -- an enormous undertaking possibly equivalent in scale to the challenge of curbing carbon emissions to avoid the worst possible outcomes of climate change), or
  3. we could re-examine our notion of "progress" and determine if it could use any tweaking.

Precious few seem interested in the latter. Everyone's a Happy Worker.

But... numbers! Graphs!! OBJECTIVITY!! What are you, some kind of Neanderthal?!

b-b-but it's all up & to the right forever without end! especially at this scale when you zoom out!!

You guys, you guys... we know that world GDP is going up and to the right already. It would be difficult *not* to be going up and to the right, given the many nations with the ability to print fiat currency into the world.

But it's one of the precious few graphs you can show that paints a picture that is not pathetic when you start drilling down further into the bowels of global "progress" -- in places like Flint, MI and Ferguson, MO; Baltimore and New Orleans; Buffalo and Pittsburgh. Or around the world, in countries like Brazil, India, and China as they modernize rapidly in the same "Produce and Consume as swiftly as possible" mandate of neoliberal capitalism.

You could just look at that graph -- or you could look at this one (more provincially now of course, in the U.S.):

Or these:

boy, those 90% of Americans are really serious losers... to think that Mitt Romney only wanted to screw over 47% of them!

Or better yet this one -- this one is a fave: ANIMATIONS! Moving, shiny, CHROME!


Meanwhile over in the developing world, millions are still enslaved, trafficked, or coerced into laboring for the wealth extractive pleasure of their dictators/warlords/foreign national corporations, who are benefitting handsomely from the windfall of outsourcing, tax inversion, and investments from the First World who, after all, needs to be kept in stock of a steady supply of conflict mineral-powered screens at every possible size along with an array of devices for fastidiously recording every available body metric. For some reason that we will figure out.

So: the benefits of progress are asymmetrical (despite the long litany of promises otherwise).

But it's only fair...

I mean, those Third Worlders should have thought about it ahead of time before allowing themselves to be born into conditions of poverty and totalitarianism. I mean, we feel really bad for them of course, but we have nothing whatsoever to do with them... and they're so far away!! It's not like our actions, desires, and dollars have any current or historical influence on the planet or anything. Not as if our nation prides itself on commanding the attention, deference, and labor of the entire globe.

And besides -- we're way too busy ripping each other to shreds here at home to have time to worry about All Those Problems Elsewhere... HAVEN'T YOU LEARNED TO CODE YET, GRUNT?!? Drop and give me twenty (UNPAID) REST APIs NOW, SOLDIER!!!