"The Techno-Optimist Manifesto" is proof tech VCs don't have the answers
Journal Commentry

"The Techno-Optimist Manifesto" is proof tech VCs don't have the answers


If you haven't read Marc Andreessen's, founder of the Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz (a16z), “manifesto” and want to be utterly bemused by a sea of irony, you should do it. You might also be filled with fear of a dystopian future, like I was. You'll also end up reading the phrase "we believe" 66 times. Yes... 66 times. If you are like me, which is possible since you are here, and someone who seeks to use technology to decentralize & disrupt systems of power & oppression, namely some sort of hacker type, reading this manifesto will give you some insight into how far of the people in power are from the truth. In fact, there's something great about this manifesto, which is that it demonstrates clearly how venture capitalists see technology and us (the mere minions of their destructive power). It's kind of like a handbook to know what big tech and VC think of us & the world. This is really a manifesto that shows us why VC's and big tech are of great harm to us. Whatever "techno-optimism" Marc is describing, certainly isn't one that defines that term very well. Maybe, in fact, this manifesto is an example of what not to do as a techno-optimist. There have been plenty great copies issued from authors on the manifesto, so there's no need to cover a review of the whole thing. But after reviewing it, however, I did feel that it shed light on many issues in the tech world and centrally around big tech and venture capitalists. These are summarized in two points I wish to make about it, "resenting technology & centralization" & "understanding nature & perpetual growth".

Resenting technology & [de]-centralization

The manifesto starts of by proclaiming that we have been lied to. Stating:

"We are told that technology takes our jobs, reduces our wages, increases inequality, threatens our health, ruins the environment, degrades our society, corrupts our children, impairs our humanity, threatens our future, and is ever on the verge of ruining everything."

Summarizing the point that we the people have been told to be & become "resentful about technology". Immediately reading this, I thought "jeez Marc, do you think we are all raging Luddite commies" – I later found out that yes, yes Marc does actually think that... “this upward spiral has been running for hundreds of years, despite continuous howling from Communists and Luddites". The bafflement I have here is that he refuses to acknowledged anything about central power and the human condition in this manifesto. Marc doesn't recognize that some people may not blame technology itself for causing harm; instead, they blame how people use technology to cause harm. The entire reason people seek to build decentralized, open-source, free and fair technology, is because they believe in the power of the technology and they just resist the abuses of it. They see that centralization allows it to be abused and for it to be used for harm. The difference is, when we look at, for instance, surveillance by Google, we don't think search engine technology is bad, we think they way it's used is bad. It's the use of the technology that degrades our society, impairs our humanity & threatens our future. Not my ability to look up pictures of Mr Bigglesworth. This is something that is fundamentally flawed by in this Manifesto. This is the point also made by Brian Merchant, author of Blood in the Machine: The Origins of the Rebellion Against Big Tech in his view on the 404Media cover of the Manifesto:

“When the Luddites, the real Luddites, not the cartoon Luddites of Andreessen and his cohort, were protesting technology they weren't protesting technology itself, they were protesting the uses of technology that would effectively forced them to work in factories, to be subservient to somebody else, and to put them in a position where they would have to compete for lower and lower wages. They were protesting the technology being used as a form of control by essentially the first generation of industrial capitalists.”

This point "they were protesting the technology being used as a form of control by essentially the first generation of industrial capitalists" speaks volumes. Marc lacks of direction in the manifesto that it's central power and oppressive power that uses technology to do harm, and not the technology itself.

Marc further goes on to talk about how centralization is an issue, whilst later promoting centralization through unregulated capitalism:

"Centralized planning is doomed to fail, the system of production and consumption is too complex. Decentralization harnesses complexity for the benefit of everyone; centralization will starve you to death... We believe in market discipline. The market naturally disciplines – the seller either learns and changes when the buyer fails to show, or exits the market. When market discipline is absent, there is no limit to how crazy things can get. The motto of every monopoly and cartel, every centralized institution not subject to market discipline: “We don’t care, because we don’t have to.” Markets prevent monopolies and cartels."

Let's just pause here a second and I'll write you Marc's bio, I've highlighted some interesting points for you:

Marc Andreessen is a Cofounder and General Partner at the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. He is an innovator and creator, one of the few to pioneer a software category used by more than a billion people and one of the few to establish multiple billion-dollar companies. Marc co-created the highly influential Mosaic internet browser and co-founded Netscape, which later sold to AOL for $4.2 billion. He also co-founded Loudcloud, which as Opsware, sold to Hewlett-Packard for $1.6 billion. He later served on the board of Hewlett-Packard from 2008 to 2018. Marc serves on the board of the following Andreessen Horowitz portfolio companies: Applied Intuition, Carta, Coinbase, Dialpad, Flow, Golden, Honor, OpenGov, and Samsara. He is also on the board of Meta.

Let's also look at some of a16z's portfolio:

  • Facebook
  • Airbnb
  • Instagram
  • Github
  • Lyft

That's a whole lot of monopoly and centralization. You'd think that the parts of this manifesto that talk about centralization and monopoly were written by some hipster open-source independent dev (like me). Not written by someone who has contributed and invested billions of dollars to the centralization and monopolization of technology.

Let's also talk about his notion of free markets.

We believe free markets are the most effective way to organize a technological economy... [Free] Markets prevent monopolies and cartels.

Now I have a question here, is Marc talking about the delusional "free market capitalism" or actual free markets. Since he is a venture capitalist, one could assume he's talking about "free market capitalism", if that even is a thing, so let's get one thing straight here. "Free market" and "capitalism" are mutually exclusive terms. What capitalists like Marc do, is try eliminate free market by monopolizing technology. There's never been a capitalist that wanted any kind of "free market". People like Marc want monopoly! If you want any kind of free market competition, you NEED heavy regulation such as anti-trust laws (which I should add, were oppressed by free market capitalists). Which in fact Marc goes on to say he vehemently opposes. The manifesto opposes central planning and bureaucracy, arguing that they can lead to inefficiency and a lack of adaptability. It asserts that centralized decision-making is doomed to fail due to the complexity of economic systems. And yet, Marc says that the enemy is statism & central planning. Let me ask this, how do you get an entirely free market, without capitalists scooping up small businesses and making monopolies without regulating them like the anti-trust laws set out to do?

There's a lot of contradiction floating about here. Don't you think?

Understanding nature & perpetual growth

I'm a firm believer that a major contributing factor to all the destructive actions happening in this world is our abstraction from nature. As someone who would happily sit in an ancient forest over reading Marc's paradoxical manifuckto maybe I'm bias. But let's get one thing straight, this comment:

"...denouce our birthrights – our control over nature"

... has to be the most unintelligent thing someone who purports intelligence has ever said. To think that we have any control over nature is frankly a delusion. And to put it crudely, when he dies, Marc will probably realize he has no control over nature.

This, frankly, is one of my main gripes with capitalism and the people at the top of it. Our disconnection with nature is our fundamental flaw and a flaw that is going to destroy us before it does anything else. I think Marc needs to go on an all-inclusive Magic Mushroom retreat, yet I shouldn't say that... because *nature crimes*.

This idea that we are in control of nature, and that things in nature, such as us, can perpetually grow through "progress" is not true. If we can learn anything from nature, it is that all things are temporal, all things are transient and nothing is infinite. Nature knows no such thing as infinite growth. Nature, teaches this lesson, over and over again in our every day life. This lesson, that there is no such thing as infinite growth, is accepted by all and applies to all. All but one – economic & material growth. Economic and material growth are told to us by capitalists, that they are to continue indefinitely. That's because, capitalism only works when there is economic growth. The reeking smell of "progress" & "growth" is merely a capitalist smokescreen to hide exploitation and accountability.

The default assumption is that - financial crises aside - growth will continue indefinitely. Not just for the poorest countries, where a better quality of life is undeniably needed, but even for the richest nations where the cornucopia of material wealth adds little to happiness and is beginning to threaten the foundations of our wellbeing. - Tim Jackson

Silicon Valley VCs like Marc, need us to believe that things can perpetually grow, because that's the only way capitalism can exist.

My takeaways from The Techno-Optimist Manifesto

  • I believe this manifesto is a great example of why VC's and big tech don't have the answers.
  • I believe this manifesto aims to shroud the reader in the idea of perpetual "growth" that fundamentally benefits them, the capitalists.
  • I believe this manifesto is built to support monopoly.
  • I believe this manifesto does not support sustainable technological growth.

I had the idea to write "I believe" 66 times with 66 other points but I'm just going to go sit under a tree and try control it instead.