Dusk Somewhere

Walking Past the Apocalypse: The Material Roots of Anti-Human Philosophy in 2020s San Francisco

Posted at — Aug 10, 2023 by Izzy Meckler

Most of us are familiar with the potential discomfort of passing a person begging on the street. Some stop and give some money or food, some stop to say they don’t have cash, most try to avoid eye-contact and walk past.

Such an experience – being confronted with deep suffering and forced to make a choice of if one will help and how – is bound to leave a psychic mark. For the wealthy tech entrepreneurs of San Francisco (and their exploited workers who believe they may one day ascend to the entrepreneur class), the problem is how to square such an experience with one’s own comfort and even more, the utopian, messianic beliefs they have about their own work.

A short digression: These messianic beliefs are produced by the speculative basis of the tech economy: they are selected for by the process of the VC pitch which determines exactly on this basis (the more grandiose the better) which companies with which founders exist. The VCs pitch process looks like this because their means of making profit is to sell shares in an IPO to other investors, and grandiose visions help inflate share prices.

Back to homelessness: so where does the psychic disturbance caused by the sight of a suffering person go in the mind of SF’s tech elite?

Some fraction of them will be open to the experience of empathy, let in some of that person’s pain, perhaps respond by examining their own life and role in creating the conditions that produce such suffering, and some smaller fraction will even do something about it. This is what leads some people to communism, and some regrettably to the false solution of YIMBYism.

Another fraction will stuff down that pain, refuse to express it consciously or explicitly, and it will manifest in all sorts of non-specific symptoms, perhaps depression or a general ennui.

For another fraction though, that disturbance will be explicitly exorcised in a way that explains why it is correct for that person to be suffering in the way that they are. This is an understandable way to try to banish the pain of seeing a human being in such a condition.

This has resulted in a variety of anti-humanist philosophies popping up – one example is “effective accelerationism”. This expresses a desire for AI systems to destroy humanity completely.

The experience of man’s inhumanity to man, when it is connected to things that the experiencer values, produces a philosophy that affirms that experience. Ruling class ideology has always worked this way, as with defenses of the feudal order, of chattel slavery, etc. But in San Francisco in 2023, where there is a consciousness (or a subconsciousness) of the fact that the machinery of exploitation has escaped all connection to humanity, we see it in very high contrast. A worship of the machinery of exploitation (mystified in the form of AI) and a desire for it to destroy humanity. To blot out the guilty horror of human beings reduced to animals, and the subconscious knowledge that you are responsible.