Discover more from Scenes with Simon
Inside Andreessen's Techno-Optimism Manifesto: NPC Meme as Ideology
We can do better. Also: Horror and the Uncanny, History of Fantasy Publishing, and Sub-Bass Bells
Seems like every part of the commentariat has an opinion on Marc Andreessen’s manifesto on techno-optimism. Surprise, I also have something to say! 😅
Let’s see some commentary.enjoys parts of it.
comes down hard.
The main reason I think technological progress is usually good for humanity — why I’m a techno-optimist of the “normative” variety — is that I fundamentally believe that humans should be given as much choice as possible. This isn’t something I can prove with facts — it’s just a moral intuition. I am a humanist. I see human beings wanting things, and I want to give them what they want. This doesn’t always mean humans will be happier when they get what they want; sometimes we make choices that make us unhappy. But as a humanist, I believe my species has the right to choose.
is more focused.
Marc’s essay is an embarrassment to the tech industry, - a meandering complaint-fest that poses nothing other than the vaguest libertarian propaganda, non-specifically framing “enemies” without having the courage to point to anyone specifically. Marc pantomimes being a firebrand in the same way that he pantomimes being a futurist —-- by making no real suggestions or calls to action but doing so with a lot of bloviating and pontificating that never really seems to go anywhere.
gets to the bottom of things.
We need innovation. We need technology. But technology in isolation is not an unalloyed good. Unconstrained, it threatens human dignity and ecological sustainability. The manifesto's blind faith in markets and disdain for regulation is naive. Markets have limitations, require wise governance, and are not ends unto themselves.
Does this image of a cyber-sphincter, pulled apart by two strong hands, revealing a pixellated heaven inside, look familiar? Did Marc Andreessen--a man who certainly would like to be known as a funny online guy, familiar with the folkways of the internet, able to cut it up with regular shitposters on the e-streets--mean for his grand statement of purpose to be illustrated by an abstract version of the internet’s most famous and beloved shock image?
Perhaps a better title for this essay would be “The Techno-Billionaire Manifesto,” as it attempts to justify not only an unquestioning pursuit of technology but the late-stage capitalism that provides out-of-whack rewards for the system’s winners—like Andreessen. In his argument, the market-based “Techno Capital Machine” is the infallible generator of merit and production. Never mind the astonishing income inequality that has dragged the world down and fomented destructive political unrest.
My take? I’m an optimist and a technologist. But, not an Andreessen techno-optimist. Technology is great. Growth is great. Optimism is great. Markets are great. But, our systems should be in the service of humanity. If it becomes a pursuit in itself, it can risk causing real damage (alongside its benefits).
Perhaps I would more readily accept the points on merit if the essay wasn’t so sure sure and outright disdainful towards people (emphasis mine).
We will explain to people captured by these zombie ideas that their fears are unwarranted and the future is bright.
We believe these captured people are suffering from ressentiment – a witches’ brew of resentment, bitterness, and rage that is causing them to hold mistaken values, values that are damaging to both themselves and the people they care about.
We believe we must help them find their way out of their self-imposed labyrinth of pain.
Language like this labels any critic as “captured people suffering from ressentiment”. It’s dangerous language that doesn’t argue on its merits, but denounces the fact people can and do have different sets of values. It’s the NPC meme as ideology. Perpetually seeing “the other” as dehumanised lesser drones. The hope that IF only they were more aware and accepted capital, technology, and markets, then they would let go of their “witches’ brew of resentment, bitterness, and rage” and be happier.
It’s perhaps the least optimistic part of the entire manifesto. It’s so un-human and narrow-minded. To miss the forest for the trees. To miss humanity by not seeing each individual as deeply complex, sometimes contradictory, and alive.
If you have this worldview you will miss the importance of how some institutions that seem “stagnant” are actually powerful forces for generating legitimacy. It being slow is the point, much in the same way that a song isn’t played as one chord. Music isn’t played to be finished. Much of the importance of modern institutions is to act as lightning rods for negotiation and conversation. If you are *only* a technologist, you will decry the fact that sometimes nothing comes of it… That, after a long deliberation, no progress had been made. But, it misses the point that sometimes a conversation *is* the point. Sometimes we just want to be heard. Whether it’s our partner in marriage listening to us and not immediately jumping to solve the problem. Or in a democracy, the act of a vote, which on its own can feel pointless, but is in fact a conversation with the rest of our society.
Slow, deliberate, self-aware engagement is an ““enemy”” of the Andreessen techno-optimist, but is vital for society because a society that doesn’t feel like it has a voice will find other means to do so.
There’s good parts to the essay: a general creed of optimism, the ingenuity of the human spirit, and promoting technology that can solve our problems. But, it’s lost under the dogmatic belief that we serve technology, and not technology, serving us. Being a technologist and being optimist *must* come with the understanding of how technology viscerally changes all manner of relationships in society. We are more than that. It’s your loss if you only see NPCs.
Scenes with Simon is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Horror and the Uncanny
I enjoyed this exploration into the genre of horror from. One part stood out as the comparison is made between humour and horror.
This isn’t to say humor should be absent from horror by any means. Humor is essential in horror for me. But the horror element itself won’t evoke the uncanny if the author mocks it. On the other hand, tonal shifts can work well. The quick veer from humorous scene to eerie scene can enhance the uncanny. (David Lynch is a master of this in film.)
Both humour and horror thrive on a pattern of subversion: the setup and the unexpected reveal. It’s no wonder that Jordan Peele is also a great horror writer.
The History of Fantasy
Modern fantasy is fairly new. Much of the tropes comes from fast-following the success of Tolkien. This articles goes into some of the interesting inner workings at the time when modern fantasy exploded as a genre.
Discretionary budgets were shrinking. People had less money for books. Harlequin, a romance publisher, had established a successful strategy: Pay small advances for formulaic genre books, preferably series, with built-in audiences.
Del Rey believed that strategy could work for fantasy. The problem was that until Terry Brooks, no one had tried hewing to a formula close enough to The Lord of the Rings—conveniently a trilogy, sell three books instead of one—to hook Tolkien’s enormous fan base. For Ron Busch, the del Reys were a godsend: ambitious editors with an idea to churn out inexpensive books for an underserved market. Confident, eccentric, and experienced Lester del Rey had an idea, and Busch let him run with it.
Kudurru - Blocking AI Scrapers
I’ve really enjoyed seeing how Mat and Holly (and the Spawning team) have been navigating AI. As early pioneers and proponents, they also strongly believe in the systems being opt-in. A new service detects scraping from popular AI datasets and alerts the rest of the network, helping them block the scraper together. Smart.
I sometimes forget what cities were like before various modern inventions. The buildings from then might still be here, but they were used differently. Need to cool down? Awnings. MANY awnings.
The Millennium Bridge Straw Bale
I love archaic, harmless laws that kind of stick around. In this instance, if work is done on a bridge across London and the headroom has been lowered, a straw bale is hung to alert ships.
Stablecoins as Bond Holders
As stablecoins have grown, they’ve increasingly become larger buyers of US Treasury bills. Geopolitically, it becomes interesting, because it’s not a nation state that owns a large of T-Bills. This might only grow in time, which is probably a double-edged sword for any government. Good: you’ve got buyers of bonds. Not so good: they are less easier to negotiate with. Will see how this plays out in time.
Weekly Zora Mint
This week is one of my favourite things in the world. A sunset. This photo is from Jacob, co-founder of Zora himself. Sometimes it doesn’t have to be more complicated than this.
If you mint this, the newsletter earns referral. Thank you to those who’ve been minting so far!
Inwards - Bright Serpent
I adore the tone of the synth/bass in this. Deep sub-bass with a bell on top.
That’s it for this week, folks. Enjoy a sunset! Talk to an ““NPC””. :)