May 28 - tech/left news
A weekly newsletter from a socialist perspective on economics, inequality, and the late capitalist dystopia that is Silicon Valley.
This may actually be the last newsletter I send for a while, as I’m taking a break of unspecified length from writing daily blog posts, and I don’t know if it makes sense to write these newsletters if I’m not doing the fragments.
Thanks to everyone who has been following me on my blog post journey. Writing a different original blog post every day is an absurd thing to do, and I’m amazed I managed to last almost 150 days. It was a massive chore at times, but I don’t regret it at all: I learned a lot, and got some practice writing (almost 200k words!), and hopefully made some people see the world a little differently. The only real downside is that my wrists started hurting midway through, but I now wear wrist braces and they kind of make me look like a Pokémon trainer, which is to say, really cool.
I’ve decided to stop writing daily fragments partly because I need to focus on my book, but mostly because I’m running out of steam, as researching and developing a thesis about a whole new topic every single day takes a lot of energy and I’ve been kind of low on energy lately. It’s weird, because I finally have a lot of time to write - something I’m incredibly grateful for - and yet some days I’m like, why do I even bother writing? What is the point?
Maybe this is an inevitable side effect of my unsteady Damascene-esque conversion over the last couple years. I’m still grappling with the person I used to be: the way I used to see the world, the things I used to value. I may have spent the last ~150 days writing about the horrors of capitalism, but I spent most of my life subconsciously learning to be a good capitalist subject, optimising for personal success in the system as it exists now. It is still disorienting for me to try to optimise for a very different life goal - one rooted in a collective project rather than an individual one - that feels like a repudiation of everything I had previously believed. There’s jarring disjuncture between the motivations that used to drive me & my newfound desire to question all my old motivations, and I haven’t yet been able to conclusively resolve that in a satisfactory way. Though I’ve adopted a new paradigm for how I think I should spend my time, my mind still clings to old habits, which means that some days I feel like a total failure and I have no motivation to work on anything at all.
I don’t know if that made any sense. The growing pains of being a baby leftist, I guess. It’s not easy to have the rug metaphorically pulled out from under you, especially when what’s underneath is just a gaping lightless chasm. The reason I turned to the left in the first place was because I was unhappy with my life, and while the left gave me an analysis that helped me understand that unhappiness, diagnosis isn’t the same as cure. At the end of the day there is just me, alone with my unhappiness. Knowing why the world is going to shit is great and all, but I still have to live in this world.
Anyway, it’s fine, I’ll figure it out, my life is easier than most, my book will get written and with any luck I’ll go on to write more (and will never have to work in tech again). If you’ve read this far, I thank you for bearing with me as I navigate the murky waters of writing and figuring what to do with my life. Frankly, I don’t know what I’m doing. Words of wisdom and/or motivation are always appreciated.
The Zynga chronicles (day 145): Chronicling the real estate adventures of Zynga, a billion-dollar gaming startup in SF whose most lucrative product is its office.
Every billionaire is a policy failure, part 2 (day 144): Reflecting on the recent news that a billionaire offered to pay off some lucky graduates' student loan debt.
Every billionaire is a policy failure, part 1 (day 143): A danger of extreme wealth concentration: it gives rise to new imperatives.
Minimum wage is livable (day 142): A series of tweets responding to the claim that minimum wage is livable if you cut out, well, most of the things that make life worth living.
Worker control and HBO's Silicon Valley (day 141): An analysis of the tech labour dynamics in the first episode of HBO's Silicon Valley's fifth season.
Local Tech Worker Suggests Protestors Learn To Code (day 140): A fictional report from the Uber protest earlier this month.
Game of Thrones and the end of history (day 132): More thoughts on Daenerys' downward spiral and the comparisons one could make to today's ruling class. (This was actually from the previous week, but I accidentally left it out of that newsletter.)
🔗 Spadework: a really incredible n+1 article by Alyssa Battistoni on her experience organising a graduate student union at Yale. I especially loved the references to Stuart Hall on ideology, some of which clearly inspired my writing in the “Personal news” section above: “To organize, and to be organized, you have to keep in mind Hall’s lesson: there is no true or false consciousness, no true self that organizing discovers or undoes. You too, Hall reminds us, were made by this world you hope to change. The more distant the world you want to live in is from the world that exists, the more deeply you yourself will feel this disjuncture.” It’s a long article, but it’s thoughtful and moving and beautifully written, and I would especially recommend it to anyone involved in organising white-collar tech workers.
📖 Keywords: The New Language of Capitalism: A new book by John Patrick Leary, published by Haymarket. Bills itself as an updated version of Raymond Williams 1985 book Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society, an apparently seminal piece of cultural theory that I have yet to read. Like Williams’ Keywords, this book is a truncated dictionary, with histories, critical explanations, and usage examples for words like “innovation”, “meritocracy”, “empowerment”. Recommended for anyone who wants a better understanding of the left’s critique of capitalism, or anyone on the left who wants to keep up with all the new words brought to us by Silicon Valley et al.
🎙 Doug Henwood’s podcast ft. Anand Giridharadas: a really fun discussion on the subject of philanthrophy, inequality, and why we need more people to be class traitors. If you’ve already read Anand’s book, Winners Take All, this episode probably won’t be anything new, but if you haven’t, it’s a nice and accessible introduction to the topic with lots of political polemic but little leftist jargon.