Disrupting Colonizer Consciousness in Silicon Valley 👾⌫

Illustration by Kaz Palladino/Awkward Affections

KEY TAKEAWAYS & QUESTIONS

  • The devil is in the process. How do we slow down enough to participate in cultural exchange without appropriation and misinterpretation, personal healing without narcissism and disassociation, and collective shifts without fooling ourselves into believing that we are the ones saving the world?
  • History is medicine. How are the psychohistories of colonization connected to savior complex in Silicon Valley? How can investigating the mindsets and legacies of this influential era help us better understand how we got here and avoid repeating the same patterns?
  • Beware of unearned wisdom and power. How do we meet the outbreak of Silicon Valley Savior Virus at the intersection of Silicon Valley and New Age culture? How can we collectively learn from the stumbles of this floundering and potentially dangerous experiment?

“How do we unlearn what we don’t know we know?”

Ashoka Finley

Special Note: Much of this analysis has been informed and supported by my time spent in the Hestia Winter Incubator community, and complemented by my friend and teacher Sara Jolena Wolcott’s course ReMembering for Life, which serves to help us remember colonization into our collective socio-ecological story. The work this winter has changed my relationship with history, nature, ancestry, religion, body and more. I give my highest recommendations to participate in future offerings.

Questioning Popular Narratives & Entrenched Mindsets 🌈🦄

The 2019 Wisdom 2.0 Mindfulness In America technology conference opened with the question:

“How do we save ourselves, and how do we save the world?”

I nodded along dutifully. These were my people, and this was my mission: relentless inner transformation to massive outer transformation. While it felt like the “Bay Area conscious community” was helping me wake up from the collective delusion that is modern American life, in hindsight I am ready to acknowledge I was caught in another colonial delusion: that of trying to save the world, through technology (my startup Siempo), and later politics (One Nation). I was so invested in what I thought was my holy life purpose that I couldn’t hear the signals trying to help, push back, or slow me down enough to consider how I might be wrong, perpetuating dangerous mindsets, or inflicting harm on the web of life. I’m certainly not clear of this Silicon Valley Savior Virus, though I’m learning to recognize it and beginning to find pathways towards healing.

The Latin root of humility is humus: the word for Earth. i.e. to be grounded. How can we keep our feet on the ground while stretching our head above the clouds? Is it conscionable to keep reaching while our neighbors are just trying to get above water?
Variations of this prophecy do appear in Hopi, Sioux, Cree and other Native American traditions. Though these sacred stories are frequently appropriated by non-native people via new age social media accounts to support magical ideas and commercial offerings.

“If we ignore the sacred, the mundane will crush us. If we ignore the mundane, the sacred will burn us.” — Jamie Wheal, Recapture The Rapture

What has resulted through placing massive expectations on millennials to do something great, allowing us access to (historically inaccessible) powerful tools without proper training, and glorifying the Savior / Hero story throughout the media? We have an accelerating number of well-meaning young adults like myself rapidly rising into power and running around as social media influencers, crypto speculators, vested engineers, social entrepreneurs, podcasters, movers and shakers, sex coaches and neo-shamans and eco-village founders. Many of us are grasping for that soothing and transcendent feeling of enoughness, attempting to quickly “wake up” with a crumbled, misleading map and few experienced guides. In failing to track the subtle dynamics of systemic oppression inside and out, these efforts frequently dump the amplified waste of a limited consciousness onto the rest of the world (and specifically BIPOC communities) to clean up.

The Hero’s Journey by Joseph Campbell. Pop culture’s hero worship (Star Wars, Harry Potter, Lord Of The Rings and the Marvel Series have become our popular mythologies) instills the idea that there is one person who can save you from whatever you want to be saved from (suffering, emptiness, hell, brokenness, loneliness).
In Moana, a female-bodied heroine is able to transform evil through making contact from a place of compassion. Men are starting to realize that the heroic journey based on one person winning via physical strength or ingenuity is actually not serving them or the collective. Perhaps the new story is about relationship with community and the wider world, and different ways of expressing strength? We need new stories to help us reimagine ourselves, the world and our place in the world differently.
This slide shows basic differences between Western and First Nations perspectives, as presented by University of Alberta professor Cathy Blackstock at the 2014 conference of the National Indian Child Welfare Association.

History for White Conscious Techies 💰⚔

“Official video” of Standing Rock. Native people are still here after genocide, erasure, and treaty violations. #waterislife.

→ The Doctrine of Discovery gave moral and economic authority to Colonization.

Wow, that’s wild, I had no idea. Why aren’t people talking about the Doctrine of Discovery? They are, I guess I just haven’t been listening? Though in all of my learning about “Indigenous wisdom” from countless spiritual gatherings, we never discussed this history, nor did we use our social and political power to lift up these stories and support their requests.

→ “The perennial sanctity of life and land was subordinated to secular sacrality of the national state and the transnational market. Thus, capitalism was born.” (Political scientist Adrian Pabst)

For an extraordinary multimedia storytelling of this history that mirrors Saras’s course, I strongly suggest watching the four part HBO series Exterminate All The Brutes, and checking out the accompanying Re-education Materials. It is flabbergasting to realize how much of modern life is influenced by Europeans mistaking military superiority for intellectual and biological superiority, in creating and continuing the project of colonial expansion as sacred work in service of “civilization.” “It is not knowledge we lack. What is missing is the courage to understand what we know and draw conclusions.” — Sven Lindqvist, author of the book the series is based on.

“Whether we are in the role of “oppressed” or “oppressor” we are all caught in a dehumanizing system that alienates us from our true selves while wounding us psychological, spiritually, and physically.

The pain is different depending on a person’s position in the social structure, but the entire structure is a deep violence against the human condition.

It transforms every person into a grist for a mill designed to extract all value from nature and people, monetize it, and consolidate it in the hands of the few so that they may satisfy the more base and fearful parts of their own selves that they have become trapped in.” — Simon Mont, Identity Beyond Politics

Eek. I hadn’t connected all these dots. It’s almost like nothing is as it seems. I’m beginning to understand how the mindsets developed throughout the era of colonization were built into the institutions that today are causing harm and proving grossly insufficient to meet the complex challenges of our time. And who is in debt to who today? Who is savage and backwards? Ugh, modern society is so sick. The global pandemic has only further exposed such deep systemic traumas and inequities, yet the rallying cry is to go back to normal, instead of reflect and choose a different path. Normal for who? How do we address the legacies of colonization that are leading to our collective death? What are we teaching and not teaching our kids in history class?

How do we go about the Hero’s Journey to lay down colonizer consciousness inside ourselves?

What I mean by “colonizer consciousness” is a set of colonial era assumptions, beliefs and values that are intentionally and unintentionally expressed though individuals and institutions to this day (I’m still in the process of defining this, and want to create ongoing conversation about what it means). In my mind, Colonizer Consciousness gives rise to Silicon Valley Savior Virus. It’s dangerous not only because of its black box cultural code (inner workings hidden from user), but because it can easily masquerade as do-gooding, especially in the tech and business worlds. And when somebody fervently believes they are doing the right thing (say, though a peak experience or religous narrative), it’s hard to convince them otherwise. Story of my 2016–2020.

  • Forces scale. Obsession with growth and speed at all costs.
  • Arrogance and hubris in knowing what is best for others, in drive to modernize, develop, civilize, change and save them
  • Prioritization of mental and scientific ways of knowing
  • Insensitivity to impact on communities and ecologies
  • Lack of accountability to certain stakeholders (workers, communities, environment)
  • Beliefs informed by homogeneous echo chamber
  • Appropriation (claiming authorship for something one is not author of)
  • Hyperindividualism, excused from any social responsibility
  • Names, defines, articulates, narrates
The Uncanny Valley thrives on claims of big impact and promises of relaxed culture. “Disruptive” products, grand mission/vision statements and clever marketing spin become sophisticated sales, recruiting and retention tools, often with little connection to the actual work being done, ultimately causing a wake of destruction in their path of blitz scaling (see Zebras Fix What Unicorns Break). Watch out for Clubhouse

Welcome to Silicon Valley: The Empire Strikes Again!

Riding on promises of ushering in utopia, Silicon Valley’s mindset and approach appears strikingly similar to that of colonization. Can you spot the familiar postures of arrogance, taking, control? Actions of exclusion, denial of responsibility and refusal to repair? Goals of modernizing distant peoples and showing all the way into a techno-optimist future? The latest expression of empire building, A/B tested for maximum extraction of the brain stem? Led by the same unscrupulous and homogeneous demographic as in the ages of Mercantilism and Imperialism and every “gold rush” since, except for an unprecedented level of immaturity as it has never been easier for young people to gain power? Is the generation of Mark, Jeff, Travis, Adam, Evan etc the new Columbus (a visionary, notoriously narcissistic and conniving social climber, and great fundraiser), Cortez, Pizarro, and our dear Washington (land speculator and arms manufacturer)? lol they literally aim to colonize the Moon and Mars 🚀

Back then the emerging technologies were ships, maps, writing, steel swords. Today they are machine learning, big data, behavior design, robotics.

Back then the mindset was conquest of people and planet. Today the mindset is maximize shareholder return at the expense of human and ecological communities.

This is what I was groomed for. This is in my brain, soul, skin and bones.

Christopher Columbus and I. New York City circa 2013. I didn’t think much about the guy then; I had learned he was a hero for discovering America. I thought it would be cool to pose next to him. Looking at this image now, I see a young man naive to history and the water he is swimming in. I probably blacked out that night from drinking and caused harm in several ways.
CEO of OpenAI and the former president of Y Combinator, prestigious startup accelerator. This is the problem. Tweets like this reinforce colonizer consciousness and white supremacy culture. YC is a bastion of techno-chauvinism: the belief of a small group of fairly homogeneous people that they are the best ones to deploy a small set of algorithmic applications to administer human life.

“The child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth.” — African Proverb

Facebook, Apple, Google & Amazon are surpassing the wildest dreams of the Spanish, Portuguese, French and British Empires; extending the Doctrine of Discovery to the mining and trading of our attention and sovereignty in the public-facing name of helping others and unspoken name of whatever version of salvation is running on their software, within the legal demands of the corporate structure. Empires cause a lot of harm, can’t actually do scale effectively, limit creativity and expression, and destroy the ability for local people to solve their own problems and choose their own destiny. Indigenous communities impacted by the colonial endeavor will tell you that Empire has caused a lot more harm than good to their relationships and environment.

“According to those who work to heal abusers, the point of recognizing the victimization of perpetrators is not to excuse, forgive, or in any way diminish the destructiveness of their actions, but rather to develop an accurate understanding of how oppression works, how it is sustained and recreated over generations, how to end it.

All of us have to grieve for how the culture of domination and exploitation took us over, no matter the color of our skin or how we came to live in this country. We have to grieve all we’ve done since being infected with the colonizer virus.”

Systems thinking is a way of approaching problems that asks how various elements within a system influence one another. If we don’t look at and shift the patterns that give rise to certain phenomena, the phenomena will continue.

“How do we decouple exploration from exploitation?” -Bonnitta Roy

The Doctrine of Discovery influenced narratives and structures of our modern day institutions (particularly intellectual property–an extension of the private property system). To some extent, tech is simply acting on these larger structures that society has provided it; including how we structure organizations, who is educated and how, and what gets valued in society. Some of what is happening is not tech’s fault. And, tech is exploiting these structures in particular ways to extract wealth, concentrate power, and deny accountibility. The irony is that while many in tech have a deep distrust of religion, there’s a blindness to how the industry is replicating the same destructive trends that turned them off to religion in the first place–namely disassociation from the political, assumption of a Messianic role (whether promising a libertarian or transhumanist utopia, it’s surely a secular one), and mission to convert people to a different way.

Walking a More Life-Honoring Path ☀️

Source: YouthSpeak

No problem can be solved without a deep understanding of the consciousness that created it, AND how that is still operating inside the problem solver.

Let us search inside history and ourselves.

If colonizer consciousness is a key culprit in many of our most pressing problems, then we must take the matter of decolonization seriously. Decolonization is the process of deconstructing colonial ideologies of the superiority and privilege embodied in Western thought and approaches, which have spread globally. When we understand the mentalities that got us here, we can understand the importance of what it means to unlearn them. For centuries there has been dialogue on decolonization (which I’m aware has some charge to it for those who have trouble hearing social justice language) in academic and movement spaces, and with COVID-19 and thanks to Black Lives Matter the conversation has extended to the business world. But search Hacker News and it’s hard to find more than a few links on decolonizing Silicon Valley, the latest surrogate for a shapeshifting adversary. People and corporations want to diversify the workplace (though pledges to address racial equity are falling short–perhaps we only pretend to want change), but don’t seem ready to challenge the structures that make it colonial in the first place.

Katty Huertas

“Students deserve an education relevant to the future they will inherit.” (overheard at Ecoversities Summit)

In addition to colonizing our minds through screen addiction, Silicon Valley has planted its neo-colonial culture of entrepreneurship education and development in all corners of the globe. This is a massive a meta-problem that deserves more dialogue, because that education and culture breeds the monstrous companies of unprecedented cultural and economic influence, which are leading our civilization to self-termination. And yet it’s the hot new career path and dominant approach that millions of young people are embracing. According to a 2019 study, 41% of middle and high school students plan to start their own businesses, and 45% percent say that they will invent something world changing.

Mark Henson: Wheel of Fortune. The treadmill keeps on turning powered by desire. The rich drink champagne as man chases his dreams, be it the “Origin of the World”, painted by the French artist Gustave Courbet in 1866, the perfect home,riches, fancy cars, food, running till his life blood is drained, becoming the fodder for the next fool. The wheel of fortune rolls on. We can make all our lives richer by stewarding the earth protecting life or be attached by umbilical cord to a life of mindless consumption.
The material in essay is representative of the type of work I am proposing doing with founders. Please fill out this form if you are interested in engaging with or supporting a curriculum like this, or have feedback and ideas to share! See The Path of The Humane Technologist for more background.
Lilla Watson — Murri (Indigenous Australian) visual artist, activist and academic

“It’s particularly critical that those of us who identify as white be able to speak from personal experience about the damage that colonization and whiteness has done to ourselves,

The amazing possibility of wholeness that derives from fully acknowledging our historical role in the creation of white supremacy,

And the deep satisfaction of cross-cultural relationships that can lead to a kind of co-creation my ancestors did not know was possible.” — Sara Wolcott

Jim Chuchu — A visual reminder of the interconnected nature of oppressive ideas and actions which people fall victim to in all parts of the world. Wall mural inspired by the poetry of Jamaican artist and activist Staceyann Chin. Originally painted on the walls of the Nest Collective’s first home in Nairobi.

Softening the Curve 😷

Silicon Valley is the latest hot spot for Savior Virus. How can we integrate what we have learned before it spreads into Hollywood, politics, finance and other domains susceptible to saviors?

During the Scientific Revolution, coffee and tobacco helped men carry out what they believe to be God’s work. Today, DMT is making us believe we are God. The Q Anon Shaman is a real and scary example of what can happen when white supremacy encounters psychedelics. Tony Hsieh is a real and tragic example of saviorism encountering addiction to ecstatsis.

“I imagine these young, smart and rich people sitting in California, tripping, passing out all in search of the next unicorn, while outside of their windows, real Californian fires burn real California time and time again. They brainstorm about the way to feel more grounded, while watching those same fires on TV or streaming channels, and whilst also not having enough water to shower in.

And then take a step back and think: who are the real rainmakers? That make the actual rain that would perhaps stop fires appearing as often as they do, or would prevent them from becoming that big, and that would continue to supply us all with freshwater (and oxygen). Trees. And trees take time to grow and be able to make rain. The actual physical trees. Not digital ones.”

Technolojesus scene in HBO’s Silicon Valley. Making the world a better place 🙌 Adam Aronovich in Navigating Psychedelic Narcissism highlights how initiatory experiences (typically around an ego death, to purify oneself of selfish goals) historically have been embedded in rich wisdom traditions, supported by ritual and community in order to move through different stages of life. These ceremonial experiences were grounded in a specific narrative related to the whole (interdependence), rather than a self-knowledge or personal healing or corporate competition pursuit in a Brooklyn basement. Embedded in Anglo-Saxon cultural substrate, it’s just as likely that an experience designed to loosen the ego will rebound to enlarge it, resulting in glorification of the self and potential Messianic inflation. Which nearly every spiritual tradition warns and has safeguards against. “Beware of unearned wisdom” famously advised Jung.

Let’s move from ‘if you can measure it you can improve it’ to ‘if you name it you can transform it.’

Susan Basterfield

“If your quest for spiritual enlightenment doesn’t enhance your ability to witness and heal the suffering of your fellow humans, then it’s fake enlightenment.

If your quest for spiritual enlightenment encourages you to imagine that expressing your personal freedom excuses you from caring for the health and well-being of your fellow humans, then it’s fake
enlightenment.

If your quest for spiritual enlightenment allows or encourages you to ignore racism, bigotry, plutocracy, misogyny, and LGBTQ-phobia, it’s fake enlightenment.” -Rob Brezsny

Going even further, Decolonizing Civic Tech invites us to de-center ourselves as the leaders, and rebuild our role in these movements as public personas who speak well and listen better, not revolutionary geniuses. To be plumbers, not “starchitects.” Supporters, not saviors. Servant leaders, not thought leaders. To center voices from Indigenous and marginalized communities where we work. Understanding what they actually want and need, and connect with them on their terms.

“We can accept the world as it is, and reject it, and accept the rejection while rejecting the accepting.”

Conclusion

Whew. There’s so much more here to synthesize for a deeper analysis. I’m mourning all that has not been included, all the dots I am not able to connect, the butterfly effect of any irresponsible translation, and the inevitability that my analysis will change over time.

🍃 How can the patterns of nature and Indigenous values inform more harmonious economic models?

🖊 How can we remember history to serve the needs of our time?

📚 What and how should the next generation of business and technology leaders learn? What should I learn in order to be effective at what I want to do? Who should I build relationships with?

🙏 How can we integrate peak experiences in an ethical and responsible way, that leads to real personal and societal transformation?

At the end of the day, I keep coming back to balance. The difference between medicine and poison is the dose. Too much of anything leads to an imbalance. I want to keep attuning to what aspects of life and society are out of balance, get curious about why, and make efforts to bring those things back into balance. Rinse and repeat. With humility. Don’t forget to play. And breathe. + something about birds. / God?️

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Andrew Murray Dunn

Regenerative Tech | Business | Culture | Life. Co-founder @getsiempo, Digital Wellness Collective, @Wharton Wisdom. www.andrewmurraydunn.com