Utopia and/or Bust

But Andreessen waved away the criticisms as the ravings of “a self-hating software engineer.” When I persisted, he said, “Ordinary people love the iPhone, Facebook, Google Search, Airbnb, and Lyft. It’s only the intellectuals who worry.” He raised counter-arguments, then dismissed them: technology would solve any environmental crisis hastened by an expanding economy, and as for the notion that, as he said, “‘You American imperialist asshole, not everyone wants all that technology’ — well, bullshit! Go to a Chinese village and ask them.” Technology gives us superpowers, makes us smarter, more powerful, happier. “Would the world be a better place if there were fifty Silicon Valleys?” he said. “Obviously, yes. Over the past thirty years, the level of income throughout the developing world is rising, the number of people in poverty is shrinking, health outcomes are improving, birth rates are falling. And it’ll be even better in ten years. Pessimism always sounds more sophisticated than optimism — it’s the Eden-collapse myth over and over again — and then you look at G.D.P. per capita worldwide, and it’s up and to the right. If this is collapse, let’s have more of it!”

One of the more interesting things I took away from Tad Friend’s profile of super-VC Marc Andreessen, after Andreessen’s apparent obsession with straw critics, is the rough outline of his future software utopia. His is an optimism for the power of a technology that is synonymous with pure capitalism. (He is much easier to process once you notice this.) What is odd is where, narrowly, the optimism for future man, society and economy restrains itself: it seems to suppose Andreessen and his peers would somehow not be regarded, in hindsight, as profiteers. Everything is inevitable except for this, somehow!