Column: The New Brumaire by Jenkin Benson ’17

bensonje17@grinnell.edu

Last weekend’s nationwide #NoBanNoWall airport protests fully displayed the ruthless and conniving nature of Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurial upper echelon, particularly in New York City. Uber, an app based car service most renowned for its status as a more palatable taxi alternative and a company that refuses to acknowledge its drivers as employees, acted as a union scab with intentions to strike-break NYC taxi services. This contemptible policy does not come off as too surprising, however, since Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick has recently joined Trump’s administration as an economic adviser.

Uber’s scabbing turned out to be a thoroughly detrimental business approach as multiple online campaigns were commenced to encourage users to delete their accounts. Sniffing weakness in their competitor, rival app Lyft announced they would be donating 1 million dollars to the American Civil Liberties Union, banking on performative progressivism. And while many people quickly praised the professed righteousness of Lyft, it should be noted that billionaire and hard-right reactionary Peter Thiel is one of the company’s major investors.

The largely unspoken contentions between America’s national obsession with corporate tech and left populism was made undeniably evident. It is a curious facet of the global neoliberal order to promote technology as the saving grace of egalitarianism and sustainability despite the fact the historical and material record tends to convey an opposite reality. New technologies have obviously made our lives more convenient, but that does not mean the producers of these devices and software have the well-being of the public in mind.

Silicon Valley, with its Bay Area associations, markets itself as a bastion of technical and social progress. It is a place that apparently all people, regardless of their identities, can come together, synthesize ingenious ideas and create products previously unfathomable. Mark Zuckerburg and Steve Jobs have been mythologized and subsumed into the American sociopolitical consciousness as notables who definitively represent the fulfillment of the American Dream. This image of the South Bay, however, is purely advertisement. The progressive ideations of Facebook, Amazon and pretty much every other major corporate tech company are merely projections that detract from their fundamental goal of capital accumulation.

Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook, pillars of our computer driven society, all donated more money to the GOP in 2016 than the Democrats. Considering that the tech producers of Silicon Valley have generated one of the largest amounts of capital in one of the shortest amounts of time in human history, is it all that shocking that these businesses would gravitate to the political party that preserves wealth over supporting the American people? Bill Gates creates a charitable illustration of tech’s humanistic role in the 21st century, but he and his colleagues also line their vast pockets and invest in reproducing political systems that inevitably propagate the conditions that continue to disadvantage people. Putting it bluntly, private tech is not an ally to the vulnerable in both America and abroad.


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