The Philosophy That Explains Why So Many Silicon Valley CEOs Are Always Playing Victim
A Stanford professor explains how tech titans channel obscure philosophies to convince us — and themselves — they’re being wronged
Adrian Daub is a professor of comparative literature at Stanford and the author of What Tech Calls Thinking: An Inquiry Into the Intellectual Bedrock of Silicon Valley (FSG x Logic Books).
The tech industry is known for making the seemingly impossible possible — but its greatest trick may consist of somehow managing to reframe a billionaire class and massive conglomerates as victims. We probably don’t talk enough about how the industry pulls this off: Tech leaders have long been infatuated with thinkers who reverse the commonsense picture of how power in our society is distributed and how it operates. And we have largely gone along for the ride.
Examples of self-styled victimhood are dime-a-dozen in Silicon Valley. In May 2016, Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel revealed he had brought down the media company Gawker using an immense legal war machine. He put hundreds of people out of work in an industry not exactly lousy with jobs. It was widely assumed he had done so because Gawker had revealed he was gay, a fact that he had preferred to keep private. And yet, in his justifications, he cast himself (and other celebrities, including other Silicon Valley titans, targeted by Gawker’s admittedly freewheeling style of scoop) as a “victim” of Gawker, accused the company of “bullying people,” and said he “thought it was worth fighting back.” There were expressions of concern about Thiel’s actions, but one had to marvel at the colossal act of reframing by which Thiel had justified his vendetta.
This victimization complex was also at play when Elon Musk called a rescue diver “a pedo guy” on Twitter and then claimed it was, in fact, he who was misunderstood. And more recently, Vice in July published a conversation between several high-profile venture capitalists on the Clubhouse social network in which they complained that journalists had too much power to “cancel” people. It revealed how some prominent founders and funders think about journalism, but above all, it was striking how they conceived…