Technology
Sean Willett/the Gauntlet

Northern Sprites: The politics of tech

Publication YearIssue Date 

When asked about which commercial industries are the most right wing in their politics, the technology industry usually isn’t at the top of people’s lists. Yet tech companies can rival banks and oil companies in their distaste for regulation, with the people in the tech community sometimes taking these beliefs to the utmost extreme.

In a way, this is to be expected. Looking at some recent trends that have happened in the tech community in the past few years — the rise in popularity of unregulated currencies like Bitcoin, people advocating for 3D-printed weaponry and the outcry against Internet censorship — the growing distaste for government interference is easy to identify. There is a strong libertarian streak that runs through the tech community, one that is now more prevalent than ever.

This is particularly unsurprising when you consider the financial status of people who make up large parts of the tech industry. People who have found success in Silicon Valley are now very, very wealthy, and most likely have a newfound interest in protecting this wealth from taxation or regulation. In this way, many people in tech are strikingly similar to Wall Street bankers — complete with the superiority complex.

Some parts of the tech community take these anti-government sentiments even further, with some even advocating for Silicon Valley to separate from the United States. People like Counsyl co-founder and Stanford lecturer Balaji Srinivasan desire to escape from the “Paper Belt,” a term used to describe and belittle the bureaucracy of modern governments. Their ultimate goal would be to create a technology-driven utopia, although these lofty ideas are rarely backed up by real-world actions.

While the more wealthy parts of the tech industry are reminiscent of Wall Street bankers, the parts of the community calling for separation from the United States bear more of a resemblance to the Tea Party. These tech-separatists may be slightly less crazy and slightly more tech-savvy than the actual Tea Party, but they share the same sort of reputation — they are both small fringe elements nested within larger movements, albeit elements that still have a worrisome amount of influence.

To be fair, not all of the tech industry is so right wing in their politics, and even the parts that are don’t necessarily make their beliefs a big aspect of what they do. Yet some of the biggest names in tech are pouring money into the Republican party — PayPal co-founder Peter Theil has backed Republicans like Ron Paul and Ted Cruz, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg has invested millions of dollars into an anti-Affordable Care Act and pro-oil political organization called FWD.us.

While these actions are typical of the leaders of any successful commercial industry in the United States, some people may be tempted into thinking that Silicon Valley is somehow above this type of behaviour. Just because people in the tech industry are good with computers and live in California doesn’t mean they’re any less interested in making money, or any more interested in making sure they get to keep that money for themselves.

Northern Sprites is a column that looks at technology and video games. It is written by a nerd.

Tags: 

Section: 

Issue: