In regard to man's final end, all the higher religions are in complete agreement. The purpose of human life is the discovery of Truth, the unitive knowledge of the Godhead. . . . Contemplation of truth is the end, action the means. . . . The invention of the steam engine produced a revolution, not merely in industrial techniques, but also and much more significantly in philosophy. Because machines could be made progressively more and more efficient, Western man came to believe that men and societies would automatically register a corresponding moral and spiritual improvement. Attention and allegiance came to be paid, not to Eternity, but to the Utopian future. External circumstance came to be regarded as more important than states of mind about external circumstances, and the end of human life was held to be action, with contemplation as a means to that end. These false and, historically, aberrant and heretical doctrines are now systematically taught in our schools and repeated, day in, day out, by those anonymous writers of advertising copy who, more than any other teachers, provide European and American adults with their current philosophy of life. Christians accept the heresy unquestioningly and are quite unconscious of its complete incompatibility with their own or anybody else's religion.
-- from the Introduction by Aldous Huxley to Bhagavad-Gita: The Song of God, by Swami Prabhavananda (1944)
If you believe in the Gaia theory, that the earth is alive, possibly more alive than any of us, and you are either old enough to remember the 60's and the Bay Area's sex, drugs & rock n' roll culture or you have read enough about that time and have imbibed (literally and figuratively) that culture somehow through music, film, food, fashion and Burning Man, it won't be too difficult to imagine and embrace a bit of mental consternation about how "earth vibes" could have contributed to that 60s cultural phenomenon, and how in parallel time those same vibes have contributed to another cultural phenomenon - today's Silicon Valley.
In dealing with more mundane topics like racism and sexism, one might ask, in the spirit of juxtaposition, where are Silicon Valley's Janis Joplin, Carlos Santana and Jimi Hendrix?
Is Silicon Valley a Counter-Evolutionary Force?
As our species migrates along the evolutionary path from monarchy, the divine right of kings and an earth-centric view of the universe, to a pluralistic view of ourselves as equals and a concept of the universe that has fully dislodged our ego-driven sense of importance in the cosmic scheme of things - in this context, white male superiority is the last gasp - it is our homo sapien fingers alone grabbing desperately at the edge of a cliff as our male-dominant body politic dangles over the edge of an abyss.
The paradox is that Silicon Valley's current set of values have far more in common with the values of the 1950s, than the counter-culture of the 1960s. Is it any wonder that racism and sexism are alive and well in the Valley?
A Few Thoughts on the Concept of Race
Race is a cover-up, a packaged mask and garment that one wears. It is a conceptual fabric that one can lightly toss on our own body and the bodies of others, where it clings to the ins and outs of the contours of our physicality and minds, and subtly and in many cases not so subtly, guides our perception, behavior and actions (or omissions). By dressing ourselves we automatically dress others and vice versa.
We carry race with us unwittingly and also consciously and intentionally. And this may vary depending on our mood or the day. We include and exclude ourselves, others and reality itself, because of race. We wear race as a badge of self-righteousness or as a symbol of our humiliation and shame - but in all cases as a manifestation of the ego.
Ironically, racists, whether in the closet or not and whether they are fully aware of their racism or not, all suffer from one collective fate and rule, they do not like what they see in the mirror. Racism is ultimately about a lack of self-love.
It is the ego that constructs the concept of race and drives the agenda of racism. Strangely, the ego doesn't care if it is the victim or the victimizer. The only important thing for the ego, its raison d'etre, is to be and maintain center-stage (both in an interior self-centered sense, and in an exterior look at me to the world sense). In this context, the ego is the trickster. It is a mythological manipulator -- an impregnable fortress and archetypal process mechanism that like a black hole, absorbs (or better transmogrifies) all information and light, to reinforce its continued existence and position.
The flip side of the ego is power. While the ego drives our inner-world dialogue, its outer manifestation, power (or a lack thereof), is the ordering tool of our exterior material world-views. Together, ego and power represent a dynamic that is first and foremost intent on (to reiterate) preserving itself. Racism is simply a tool to do that. Sexism serves the same role.
Our Distorted Gender Frame of Reference
We assume that male and female represent a set of biological opposites. That we procreate and produce offspring closes off any debate or consideration of larger more embracing definitions.
In fact, we are a species and represent a spectrum of evolutionary forces. On this spectrum it is far from clear where maleness and femaleness begins and ends. If we assume polarities there is much in between.
We are, therefore, not so much poles, as respective forces involved in a process far larger than either force individually.
Put simply, race and gender are inventions of the ego. Which means first and foremost that they are psychic fictions.
But inner fictions can command attention, particularly when psychic manufacturing and marketing is geared to establishing the myth of superiority (or inferiority).
White Maleness as Disruptive Innovation
If Europe is to be distinguished from other global regions it has to be on the basis of three things: sea exploration, slavery and colonization. Obviously, England, Spain and Portugal stand out, with the Dutch, the Italians and to a lesser extent the German's playing less impactful global colonial roles.
This unique approach to the world and to the idea of the other, remains with us to this day, particularly in the Americas. The vestiges of world exploration are now subsumed under the moniker of globalization. Slavery has been abolished, but the hierarchy of its mandate remains and colonization, the symbolic linking of man and earth as one property holding, to be exploited as the principal tool of wealth creation in the New World, is still bearing fruit. In the history of our species, nothing has created more wealth than free labor and free land, and nothing has morally justified that behaviour more than the concept of whiteness.
The natural and moral (as in Biblical) superiority of the Europeans, particularly men, as earth's caretakers (in the most pejorative sense we can imagine), was and is a core operating principal.
Simply put, for those in power race and gender have always played key roles in maintaining the status quo, meaning the societal and cultural structures that brought and sustain power.
This sense of hierarchy in Silicon Valley (a unique and privileged microcosm of society at large) represents a theme in the distribution and concentration of wealth (power's most obvious manifestation) - namely, that those at the top deserve their position in an implied Darwinian sense. Silicon Valley is the last bastion of the classic American notion of a true meritocracy.
Despite over a century of various forms of affirmative action for women and minorities, the concentration of wealth at the top of the socio-economic pyramid in the United States has never been greater. The pie did get bigger, but so did the share of the top 1%. In the Valley, those percentages are skewed still further.
As the ultimate vetting mechanism, the meritocracy is intended for those who seek power not those who have it. The beauty of the meritocratic ideal is that those who gain admission become the system's most ardent protectors.
For those not in power, or who seek power, race and gender become a filtering mechanism. Those in power of course, control the filtering mechanism, in very much the same way that one controls the selection process for membership in a private club.
On the outside of power looking in, the filtering mechanism forces adjustments. We change and adapt in an attempt to want to get up to and then through the filtering mechanism.
Changes in society over the years via various movements (i.e., civil rights, women's rights, gay and transgender rights, etc.) have created other pressures and shaping techniques that have forced the filtering mechanism to make slight adjustments.
Those adjustments, however, have been at the margins of power, not its core.
Today, those who get through have learned to whisper the code word and mentally dress accordingly.
It is easy to refute the idea of white male dominance in the Valley with a simple observation. Namely, that there are plenty of minorities in positions of prominence, particularly from Asia. White males are clearly and overwhelmingly the dominant presence in venture capital, R&D and entrepreneurship, but representatives in the Valley from India, China, Japan and other South Asian countries, have carved out a powerful presence, and to some extent these gains have been gender agnostic.
This, however, is beside the point. Because once you are through the filtering mechanism, once you have laid claim to being there on the basis of merit, you come face to face with the real dilemma.
Namely, that the very thing we fought so hard for, the new plateau we've reached, is the launching pad for a global economic system that is destroying us, both individually and collectively - and destroying the planet as well.
The Path to Truth and the Godhead
Silicon Valley's meritocracy is far more than a manifestation of Adam Smith's invisible hand. It is lethal in its unconsciousness, in that questions about it are discouraged or not allowed, and when consciously considered, the conversation and analysis devolves to intellectual side-stepping and the pervading and mass consumed notion that technology will save us, and if it doesn't save us, at least we'll make tons of money in the process.
Technology is our mantra. But it is technology (the evolution of the use of tools) that has brought us to the point of self-destruction and to the point of destroying the ecosystem of the planet that sustains us. Black, brown and female Mark Zuckerbergs will not save us.
It is this core set of destructive values that underlies our meritocracy. Racism and sexism are part of those values.
The vast majority, dare we say all, of the minorities and women who have broken through and are now amongst the elite white male bastions of Silicon Valley power, are not there to be disruptive.
Disruption is Orwellian double-speak. No one of Sand Hill Road or South of Market is about disrupting this system.
Our hope is that the counter-movements, like the quest to adopt biomimicry, the idea of cradle-to-cradle manufacturing, design, construction, etc., and even Integral Theory, will somehow awaken us to a higher calling - a higher consciousness about our roles as evolutionary change agents, global citizens and members of a Silicon Valley ecosystem, whether we are in Silicon Valley or elsewhere.
Greentech is one of those movements. But the prevailing meritocratic myth creeps in on any and all greentech discourses. Because the assumption is that greentech will be monetizable like all other tech innovations, and many entrepreneurs and investors will create massive amounts of wealth in the process of saving the planet and as a consequence ourselves.
This inherent contradiction, that somehow the very system that created our global environmental calamity, will also be the system that solves the problem it created, is the least explored working premise in Silicon Valley's ecosystem.
This same myth holds true for exponential technologies: synthetic biology, robotics, 3D printing and the list goes on, will individually and collectively transform our world, by directly addressing the Grand Challenges of clean water, healthcare, green urban living, poverty and the like.
The whole concept of exponential technologies is being sold, first and foremost, as a global panacea, and second, without any critique about the system that created the need for what will hopefully be exponential solutions.
Part of the challenge and the dilemma of the white-male-in-Silicon-Valley syndrome, is that the vast majority of white males in positions of power (CEOs, CFOs, CTOs, Chief Engineers, Managing General Partners at the top-tier VC firms, serial entrepreneurs, HR, etc.) have never come across a black, Hispanic or woman in life, who they felt was their intellectual equal (in many cases the contact with blacks and/or Hispanics has been negligible or not at all).
The basic premise and the substantive grounding of being white and male in Silicon Valley, is based on this presupposition of superiority. To admit that a black, Hispanic or woman could be equal (or worse, better), contradicts this fundamental premise of superiority. It doesn't simply undermine the conceptual framework of white male dominance, it undermines ontologically their reason for living.
The ego invests. And it bets high stakes on what it believes. Once the bet is made, people spend their lifetimes playing their cards accordingly. And for years, decades even, the reward (materially and psychically) has always paid off. In this context, maintaining the status quo is its own reward.
The Valley's dogma is that I earned it because I am good and not only good, but better. The fact that I, a white male, wound up extremely well-positioned to take advantage of the situation that life in the Silicon Valley presented me isn't part of the analysis. Circumstances of birth are largely discounted. The basic premise is, if I made it so can you. Or not.
Given the long history of victimhood, and the physical, emotional and mental ruts created that imprison victims in their victimhood, it doesn't take much coaxing from the victimizer to reinforce and undermine the victim's performance. Subtle pressures work just fine.
The meritocratic objective standards being used to judge superiority or inferiority, however, are constructed for a larger purpose. So-called objectivity itself is a screening mechanism that excludes or eliminates other relevant and potentially contradictory factors.
Affirmative action through the years represents a countervailing force to the white male paradigm. Except that affirmative action is always juxtaposed as a compromise to merit. The assumption is always that white males have set the standard of excellence. And the corollary is that minorities and women as groups drag down the curve.
But this argument requires stepping back and embracing a larger perspective. Look at our world - from the standpoint of our species.
What have we done? And what are we doing? Does the state of the earth and the world today represent a standard of excellence? Is this the best our meritocracy can do? Who are we kidding?
Even the blacks and Hispanics that have made it through the screening process, say at Apple, Google, Facebook, top-tier VC firms, law firms, etc., are quietly assumed to have made the minimal cut. They got through by the skin of their cognitive and intellectual teeth.
Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who now sits on the U.S. Supreme Court, graduated #1 in her class at Harvard Law School, but upon entering was asked by the then Dean of the law school, how she felt about taking the position away from a qualified male student. She graduated from HLS in the mid-1950s. Have things changed all that much?
Very much like an organism that automatically sends out anti-bodies to destroy a recently arrived foreign presence, the white male unconscious marshalls all the resources at its disposal to protect the status quo.
This is the case, even when the cure for this disease is obvious -- ready, willing, proactive adaptation and inclusion. Not unconscious anti-body attacks.
But there too is the rub. Because this game of who is really the smartest, plays right back into the same paradigm that the meritocracy symbolically and practically represents. It simply recreates the same oppressive framework in a different color or sexual persuasion.
We are ill. And this illness is species-wide. Silicon Valley's notion of meritocracy is fully integrated into the collective corpus of this disease, which afflicts us individually, collectively and in relation to the planet.
The bottom line is that what Jesse Jackson wants is not enough. It is unsatisfactory to create a fully integrated (racially and sexually speaking) elite. Because while we are doing that, the world around us, and nature itself is collapsing and deconstructing.
The question is no longer and has never been what new technology will save us. It isn't whether 3-D printing of new portable clean energy devices that defy the laws of physics (think Tesla, the person, not the automobile), will fully deconstruct the global fossil fuel paradigm and save us all.
There may in fact be a silver bullet out there. But unless we move to another higher level of individual, collective and planetary consciousness, even a silver bullet cannot change the trajectory of this out of control herd of nerds, that is moving like buffalo at maximum gallup on the plateau of meritocracy's illusions. We are headed for the edge of that plateau and the same abyss alluded to earlier. Today, we are meritocratically doing this with diplomas from the world's best universities and an intoxicating cocktail of materialism, sexism and racism.
If women and minorities (of whatever race) adopt the same meritocratic illusions of the dominant white male class in the Silicon Valley we are all lost.
We will simply replicate a rainbowed version of the status quo - stimulating an increasingly technologically enabled global consumer culture that is wreaking existential havoc on us and even worse ecological damage to the planet.
I am not concerned about the earth. It will eventually heal itself from the damage we have inflicted. And it will do so with or without us.
What bothers me, is what our so-called best and brightest are doing with their abilities.
Because it is the best and the brightest that brought us to this point. A worthy task would be to explore just what the best and the brightest have actually done to identify their complicitness in our current global dilemma. Is it reasonable to assume that the best and the brightest will be our salvation?
Part of waking up is realizing that the meritocracy that got us here, the mythology of excellence that is the cornerstone of Silicon Valley's values, is much more of a problem than a solution. In focusing on merit and ideas of excellence, we cannot ask the ego to be other than what the ego is.
Is there any better reflection of the ego than the state of the earth today? Or the state of man's relation to man? Even our use of language is tainted.
Self-reflection is not part of the current equation, unless it is somehow forced onto the white male psyche. In truth, we all need to be self-reflective.
New black, Hispanic and women VCs, entrepreneurs and STEM researchers (the few that exist), who adopt the dominant set of meritocratic values that pervade the Silicon Valley and for that matter the planet, will doom us.
This is arrogance at its best (always the ego's best work) - but thank god that there are no successful black, brown or female entrepreneurs creating the next Twitter or Facebook.
Personally, I would be chagrined. What an absolute waste and deviation away from the core values of the civil rights struggle that would be. I harbour the same feeling about the women's movement. What is at stake today is more than equal access and equal pay. That kind of success, which is easy to measure monetarily, but nearly impossible to measure in terms of its impact on the problems that really need solving, is exactly what women, black and Hispanic entrepreneurs ought to be leery of.
There are far more difficult and immediate challenges, that are begging for technology (and non-tech) solutions, for billions of people on this planet.
Poverty, clean drinking water for everyone, tropical and neglected diseases, new green models of urban living, biodiversity preservation, scalable organic farming, green transportation, a new clean energy paradigm to fully substitute fossil fuels, solving climate change and massive global pollution. The list goes on and on. No one, white, black, Hispanic, Asian, no one is solving these problems at scale.
No one wants to admit, much less face how bad it is.
The deniers of climate change still abound. But even the debunkers cannot deny the massive out of control pollution that humans are causing.
Even if the debunkers can't be convinced that pollution is directly causing climate change, they admit that pollution is damaging the earth and as result, us.
You can collectively take all of the unicorns that have been created and the respective "genius" teams of business and tech savvy leaders involved and ask one simple question -- are the real issues that need solving on this planet being addressed by unicorns at a critical mass sufficient to turn this global ship around?
The answer is a categorical no.
We love technological progress! But we tend to see what we want to see. In 1955, it took five and half hours to fly from New York City to Los Angeles. It takes the same amount of time today.
It was Einstein who said that you cannot solve a problem from the same level of consciousness that created it.
If Einstein's statement is true, then it obligates us to stop. To reassess. And to reassess everything. Everything. And in particular the current global economic system and the set of values that got us here.
No one in their right mind can believe that our current concepts of growth, interest rates and profits, which are the most basic foundations of our global consumer society, and the most basic foundation of our throwaway landfill driven polluting propensities, is an innocent bystander to what we are witnessing.
Forget about climate change. Just focus on pollution. Air, water and land. We are collectively committing suicide. Nothing more. Nothing less.
So, as we drive down 280 to Sand Hill Road in our Porsche's, Beamers, Lamborghini's and Tesla's, and bask in the glory of our accomplishments, and the "value" we've created via disruption, we are also playing fiddle on a living breathing Titanic.
So what do we do? What can we do?
Silicon Valley as Déjà Vu
We can begin by giving up! By letting go. We have to give up our whiteness and the ego-driven grab-bag of notions connected to it - particularly, our ideas of the meritocracy and excellence. Let it go.
Lamentably, my friends of color, we too have to give it up! We have to give up being black, Hispanic, Native American, Asian and whatever other invention that the ego has come up with to distinguish itself from the other.
And to the better half of the planet, and all of us in between, yes, we too have to give up being a distinguishable gender.
This applies to all of our otherness labels: Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, Taoist, Brazilian, Chinese, French, Turkish, etc.
Treat these labels for what they are. Mental garments. Some of which are quite beautiful.
Then we have to create a new habit, a new mental groove or neuronal network to maintain consciousness of the ego's inevitable attempt to regain its foothold. To trick us back into the old paradigm.
The first true step toward saving the planet, which is also a step toward saving ourselves, involves inner work.
You will reach a point in this mirror-driven process of self-investigation, where you see the labels, the overlays, the what-we-call-ourselves, begin to dissolve before your eyes. Even your name will go. And then, with no societal additions, you will be face to face with who you really are.
Racism and sexism are choices. The least we can do is acknowledge their existence and be aware and responsible for their vigilant interruption and deconstruction.
Notions of the meritocracy and excellence, need to be constantly juxtaposed with the dire state of the planet and the realization that these notions are either complicit in the creation of the global environmental problem or impotent to solve it. The same thing is true for the millennial-old patterns of how we relate to ourselves and to one another.
These four ego-driven concepts have always worked together hand-in-hand and are worthy of disruption.
What Silicon Valley needs is a new set of values. The goal is to incorporate all the cultural strands - the 50s, the 60s and the current Valley ethos, and to seek a holonic synthesis. These strands need to be woven together to create a new fabric for a different garment that we can all wear.
It is these new values that are sorely missing in the Silicon Valley - connection with Self, with the other and with the planet. The search for Truth and the Godhead is not a means to an end. It is the only path worth following. We need a course correction.
Janis, Carlos and Jimi were not an aberration. The 60s symbolize a brief supernova of our collective evolutionary potential. Rediscovering that power in a sustainable fashion should be Silicon Valley's new mantra. Only then we will be embracing a true definition of global disruption.