Secular Right | Reality & Reason

TAG | Silicon Valley

Paul Ingrassia at The American Conservative has published a polemic entitled “The Religious Fanaticism of Silicon Valley Elites.” It should be noted that Ingrassia is himself Catholic, so he has no beef with religion per se. Just as the zealous Proud Boys find their greatest rival in a different type of zealot, namely Antifa, the biggest detractors of X often share many of the same qualities as X. In Ingrassia’s case, his Catholicism is perhaps leading him to mistake Silicon Valley for a rival religion. He writes:

While Silicon Valley types delay giving their own children screens, knowing full well their deleterious effects on cognitive and social development (not to mention their addictive qualities), they hardly bat an eye when handing these gadgets to our middle class. 

This is untrue. Or at the very least, there’s far from enough evidence to conclude this. Psychologist Amy Orben at Cambridge has researched the effects of digital technology on youth has shown that wearing glasses has greater negative effects on youth than does screen time with smart phones, which she correctly points out can include everything form perusing Kim Kardashian’s Instragram account to chatting with friends.

Ingrassia continues:

Their political views seem to become more radical by the day. They as a class represent the junction of meritocracy and the soft nihilism that has infiltrated almost every major institution in contemporary society. 

Silicon Valley gets more radical by the day? Eh. Updating Facebook Messenger’s user interface or introducing a chatbot into a banking app isn’t radical, and they’re the kinds of things that comprise the mundane bulk of what Silicon Valley is up to. But where Silicon Valley is radical, it contradicts the notion that it’s nihilistic. More interesting developments such as synthetic meat, 3-D printed prosthetics, and crypto-currency are expressions of idealism, not throwing one’s hands up. Scott Alexander has a good rundown here of the suprisingly, er, down to earth nature of what Silicon Valley occupies itself with. VR porn or drones for extreme sports enthusiasts isn’t on the top of the list.

Our elites hope to spare themselves from incurring any moral responsibility for the costs of their social engineering. And “social engineering” is not a farfetched term to use. A portion of the Times article interrogates the premise of Aldous Huxley’s dystopian 1932 novel Brave New World, which tells the story of a totalitarian regime that has anesthetized a docile underclass into blind submission.

Hyperbole, all the way down.

Say, what is the Godwin’s Law equivalent of invoking either 1984 or Brave New World? There must be something like that. If not, it’s just a matter of time before Silicon Valley invents it…

Ingrassia spills alot of digital ink bashing Silicon Valley “guru” and “maharishi” Yuval Levin for supposedly celebrating the demise of work and the creation of a “useless” class of citizens. But Ingrassia’s linked New York Times article describes Levin as a purveyor of the idea that “Silicon Valley is an engine of dystopian ruin,” and describes him as worried that “by creating powerful influence machines to control billions of minds, the big tech companies are destroying the idea of a sovereign individual with free will.”

It sounds like Levin is in agreement with Ingrassia, if anything.

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Our Lady of Peace Shrine in Santa Clara, CA

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry (HT Tyler Cowen) ruminates on the past and present of Catholicism and how it stacks up to the influence of Silicon Valley. In short he claims that it’s, well, falling short in the modern age:

A simple glance at the history of the church should show that the current situation is anomalous. As Rodney Stark, the invaluable social historian of Christianity, notes, Christians in the Roman world had longer life expectancies than their non-Christian peers, a fact that can be largely attributed to the church’s welfare system, which was the first organized and professionally run welfare system in recorded history—in other words, a radical, world-changing innovation. It is attested by both Christian and pagan sources that Christians in antiquity provided health care lavishly to their own and to others; it is less often noted that in the process they literally invented the hospital, another rather important innovation.

He laments that Bill and Melinda Gates have done more to help eradicate malaria in Africa than Catholics have. Gobry is smart to point to Catholicism’s internal contradictions that e.g. pit environmental conservation against birth control:

Catholic doctrine includes care for creation, but also includes the condemnation of artificial family planning. How does one reconcile environmental conservationism with a moral vision that, if applied consistently, would lead to explosive population growth?

Seeing as how the center of gravity in the Catholic world has moved to the Global South – with Argentinian Pope Francis its official spokesperson –  it’s difficult to see how Catholicism will ever be on equal footing with Silicon Valley in both the near and long-term future. Argentina ain’t Japan. It should come as no surprise that a religious figurehead who is down on euthanasia might be at loggerheads with the “spiritual” home of transhumanism, a sizable minority of godless libertarians, and abortion as taken-for-granted.

One area of surprising agreement between the Catholic Church and Silicon Valley is global warming. But that’s about it.

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