As a general Typically, any essay that contains the one-sentence paragraph “I am here to deliver the good news” is written by someone who wants to take your money, your voice, or your soul. As far as I know, Marc Andreessen, the browser pioneer and co-founder of leading VC firm Andreessen Horowitz, is not running for office. But the Techno-optimistic manifesto He posted this week (it’s a habit with him) and is definitely optimistic about inflating his already bloated wallet – and narrowing the wide arc of human existence through a relentless pursuit of new and even risky technology.
Andreessen’s escape from the Olympus of late capitalism – Silicon Valley’s Sand Hill Road – sparked a mix of praise and outrage this week. He believes that technology is the key factor in human prosperity and happiness. I have no problem with that. In fact, I too am a techno-optimist – or at least I was before reading this essay, which attaches toxic baggage to the term. It’s pretty obvious that things like air conditioning, internet, rocket ships, and electric lights are sure to end up in the “win” column. As we enter the age of AI, I believe the benefits are certainly desirable, although vigilance is required to ensure the consequences are not catastrophic.
But Andreessen’s screed isn’t just about how great it is that we humans are a tool-making crew. It’s also an exaggerated declaration of humanity’s destiny as a technology-enabled superspecies – Ayn Rand resurrected as a Substack author. “Technology must be a violent assault on the forces of the unknown, forcing them to bow to humans,” he writes. “We believe that we are, have been and always will be the masters of technology and will not be dominated by technology.” The victim mentality is a curse in all areas of life, including our relationship with technology – both unnecessary and self-destructive. We are not victims, we are conqueror.” (The italics are his.) If this essay had a soundtrack, it would be Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries.” Andreessen may have missed out on investing in Uber early on, but he’s fully committed to the Ubermensch. He even calls Friedrich Nietzsche one of his “patron saints of techno-optimism.”
A better title for this essay might be “The Techno-Billionaire Manifesto,” as it seeks to justify not only an unconditional pursuit of technology, but also late capitalism that gives outrageous rewards to the system’s winners – like Andreessen. In his argument, the market-based “techno-capital machine” is the infallible generator of earnings and production. Not to mention the staggering income inequality that has dragged the world down and fueled destructive political unrest. Money, Andreessen proclaims, is the only motivator capable of producing the giant leaps in technology that will advance humanity. This will be news to the inventors of the Internet, who were civil servants and non-profit academic geeks. In fact, for many years they firmly opposed any commercialization.
Andreessen announces that he rejects monopolies and regulatory capture. Maybe that’s what he believed when his browser company Netscape was buried by Microsoft. But that’s an empty statement from someone who has sat on the board of Facebook, now Meta, for 15 years. I’d like to take a look at the minutes to see how often he railed against monopolies and lobbying in board meetings.
Andreessen argues that advanced technology creates abundance that uplifts all people. “We believe that there is no conflict between capitalist profits and a social system that protects the vulnerable,” he writes. But even though he may not realize it his home in Atherton, California– the richest zip code in the country – the country he lives in provides a counterargument. While the United States has the most advanced technology in the world, the life expectancy of its citizens is increasing fallen. Surely he is aware of the problem of homelessness in American cities, which is most glaring in nearby San Francisco? He might even have read that the vast majority of average Americans I can’t afford to buy a housenamely 40 percent would have difficulty covering it an unexpected expense of $400. The techno-capital machine doesn’t seem to be working for them. But don’t worry – Andreessen quotes a quote from Andy Warhol celebrating how well our system works because rich and poor people alike can enjoy a Coca-Cola. Let them drink sugar water!