Disrupting Colonizer Consciousness in Silicon Valley 👾⌫
Part II: Noticing Patterns of History in Tech & Business.
Questioning Popular Narratives in Spiritual Communities.
Inquiring How To Be With It All.
This is a follow up to Part I: Autobiography of Silicon Valley Savior ⛔️💪🏻🌍 in which I track the subtle dynamics of my journey into and out of savior complex. tldr: high achieving privileged white bro scratches itches to make a lot of money, get enlightened, and save the world in order to feel whole.
Part II is an analysis of that story, a mapping of a gigantic and multifaceted topic, and a reflection for the professional communities I am very much apart of (tech founder x transformational, mindful, conscious, wellness, spiritual, regenerative, systems change, impact, social, ethical, humane, etc.) that operate to some degree on the belief that Technology x Awakening will Save the World. As that kind of entrepreneur, I used to buy and evangelize that narrative. Now I’m terrified by the proposition, as I’m realizing we are not awakened, and learning we have made these mistakes before.
Welcome fellow travelers! The Wellness Tech ecotone (region of transition between two biological communities) is a phenomenal teacher for the collective. Let us observe it.
First we’ll review some New Age narratives that have been creeping into Silicon Valley (the culture–not limited to geographical origin in California). Next we’ll walk through a lesser known history of colonization. Then we’ll look at how Silicon Valley is perpetuating what I refer to as Colonizer Consciousness. Finally we’ll discuss what it might look like to walk a more life-honoring path as a technologist or non-Indigenous person today, and how we might soften the curve of Silicon Valley Savior Virus (discussed in Part I: phenomenon in which tech founders believe they are destined to save the world).
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?”
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 🌈🦄
“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.
What’s so wrong with the savior meme? Why does investigating this phenomenon matter? Because the stakes are high, and I know I’m not alone. There is a perfect storm brewing at the intersection of Silicon Valley and Awakening culture, due to the influences of McMindfulness, psychedelic mainstreaming, spiritual but not religious festival life, cults of self-improvement and more. To get the competitive edge, seed stage startups trip acid together, Series A pause to meditate every day, and Series B perks include energy healing. The hubris and domination mindset of tech entrepreneurship, meets the magical thinking and superiority complex of New Age spirituality, to produce a blind faith in holding the winning equation: whether for “solving our biggest problems” or “doing well by doing good” or for “turning our crisis into a rebirth.”
(Please forgive my more critical tone; I’m in a season of taking some space from these communities, reflecting and attempting to lovingly share what I notice 💙)
I championed this culture with religiosity, and only recently began to understand how insidious the cocktail can be, as most of us going through this developmental stage can’t see how we are still operating inside of and perpetuating extractive systems. Or if we can see and talk about it, we struggle to fully embody it from within our echo chambers of love and light, grandiosity and do-good’ing. We are cultivating the power of Gods, without the hard earned wisdom, discernment, or humility.
It’s a bit of a cosmic joke: a generation taught they are special and can do anything, comes of age at a time of great peril when a mythic heroism is seemingly demanded, and all the world’s traditions have their cards on the digital table. It’s said to be in the Indigenous prophecies. It’s written in the stars. The next Buddha is a Sangha! An army of light workers is assembling! We chose to be born in this lifetime. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We’ve been training lifetimes for this. The whole universe is watching. This is the generation of Mashiach! It’s the most critical moment on Earth. Shambala Warriors, Rainbow Warriors, Indigo Children UNITE!
Whew! These are powerful stories (albeit often pirated and decontextualized), medicine themselves amidst a meaning crisis. Belonging, in an epidemic of loneliness. I’m special after all, in a world that has become disenchanted. Welcome home, in a society of peoples displaced from their ancestral homes. Swimming in these waters, it’s so easy to get caught up in our own narratives, become addicted to our personal mythologies, and co-opt any story that endorses them in a alternative reality vortex of confirmation basis. Especially when it’s reinforced by homogeneous community and social media filter bubbles. Especially when we lack accountability systems, elders and teachers, and a community that culturally regulates these kinds of things. Especially when our worldview is shaped by feel-good Instagram memes and candy shops of psycho-spiritual tools that let any body rip the lid off the Ark of the Covenant, in a pen. It’s a weird time, man. High profile investors serving medicine to founders in the middle of the workday. Founders channeling ET’s to get the competitive edge. Shamans flying in to resolve operational drama…
“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.
This is where I’m troubled by what I experience as the superficial engagement with and misinterpretation/misuse of the Hero’s Journey (or monomyth) framework, which grew out of observed patterns in ancient myths that were designed to teach communities how to live well and in humble service to the whole. Myths leverage metaphor as a learning tool, and are often about an inner dimension of life than something that happens or happened out in the physical world in some grand way, with characters in conflict merely representing different parts of our psyche. But it’s 2021: we have all these massive problems, sophisticated tools to conceivably address them, and powerful stories that have been warped to serve the demands of the market. Voilà: any young seeking engineer can click to schedule time with a transformational leadership coach or healing retreat center designed explicitly around applying the Hero’s Journey to one’s entrepreneurial path, dovetailing ever so elegantly into a growing culture of new age narcissism and green/good/rainbow-washed capitalism.
This feels reckless and dangerous, as the last thing we need is more heroes playing out their spiritual fantasy quests on the real world, with podcasts and AI. Even if it’s emphasized as a primarily inner journey, it’s sure talked about as if it’s something out there for a single person or group to achieve (a false Hero’s Journey?). Can we can handle the framework without stronger checks and balances? I couldn’t. It’s so easy in our “spiritual communities” to mistake the map for the territory. How can we become better ambassadors of these meta-myths and tools, more discerning with our language (“̶w̶h̶a̶t̶ ̶a̶r̶e̶ ̶y̶o̶u̶r̶ ̶s̶u̶p̶e̶r̶p̶o̶w̶e̶r̶s̶?̶!̶”̶), and sensitive to how we educate each other through word of mouth? Especially in vulnerable spaces where therapy and healing occurs (see Matthew Johnson on inappropriate introduction of religious/spiritual beliefs of investigators or clinicians). Words are spells. Words create worlds. Abracadabra! (Hebrew for “I will create as I speak”).
I want to lift up Maya Zuckerman’s call to update the hero-savior framework to that of a Collective Journey to meet our ever-shifting reality. The old narratives lead us to believe that one person must do it all, when in reality big problems are solved through the combined efforts of many dedicated and diverse people over a long period of time. They also center the masculine archetype, which perpetuates aggression, persistent conflict, linear thinking, violence, and the feminine depicted as either a temptress or goddess. Importantly, Mythologist Sharon Blackie points out that Campbell’s lens is that of a 1940’s white American man, cherry picking patterns within a culture of hyper-individualism. Everyone who tries to codify or organize patterns inevitably brings their own colonial biases with them to do that process.
At best, emphasis on the individual’s self actualization is empowering; but at worst, it perpetuates an individualistic culture that takes one out of the political space and any sense of social responsibility to creating a more equal society, because each of us is supposed to be the one hero. Or light beam or whatever. Gail Carriger highlights a different set of patterns and stories in The Heroine’s Journey, while sci-fi writer Octavia Butler has invented futures and alternate universes with black girls and black women at the center.
How can those of us assuming any semblance of teacherly authority do more homework to understand and question the lineage and the intersectional nature of the wisdom we are stewarding? Last month I was struck to learn that Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs was “borrowed” from the Siksika (Blackfoot people) and misrepresented, flipping the priority of self-actualization, and nixing Community Actualization and Cultural Perpetuity altogether. I couldn’t fathom the impact of one of the most influential frameworks in modern psychology being distorted to meet the needs of the academy (who in mid-century would have scorned indigenous ways of being as barbaric) and Western/American culture of hyperindividualism. But it turns out the author of the piece got a lot of things wrong! Highlighting the difficult of arriving at historical truth when juggling multiple narratives.
How about the waves of Buddhism and Hinduism that washed through Silicon Valley’s early days through the present? These philosophies never had a chance to be properly translated and scrutinized and synthesized with Judeo-Christian traditions. The New Age has cherry picked ideas of human potential and thoughts-create-reality from Eastern systems without adopting the deeper cultural context in which they were initially embedded (a larger social system of roles and responsibilities and regulations), and overlaid them onto a capitalist human progress mentality (see also: Amazonian shamanism). Too often “you have limitless human potential” becomes “you can have limitless wealth, without accountability.” Which is in awkward and decoherent opposition to the 1st commandment in the Torah that “you shall have no other God” and the Original Sin of eating fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. In other words, it’s the cardinal sin to deify oneself, say through the self glorification that accompanies belief in the capacity to save the world. With scientific materialism’s rejection of Western religion, we have forgotten the cultural regulations designed to prevent silly and harmful behavior like God imitation.
How can we support each other and the next generations in waking up, cleaning up, growing up, and showing up in a more grounded and sensitive way? I can take responsible for being too trusting and impressionable when it comes to adopting favorable narratives, too eager to promote muddy ontologies, too hopeful and dissociative when it comes to meeting the pain of the world, too ignorant to the collective lessons of history. What will it take to see more clearly and do the necessary healing work, but not get in stuck naval gazing, nihilism, or acting on heroic and Messianic impulses? How do we make it compelling for the growing segment of spiritual tech founders and professionals to do both the personal healing work, and social healing work too? What does it look when awakening also involves scrubbing racist and colonial mindsets from one’s consciousness, and humbly participating in political, economic and cultural shifts?
History for White Conscious Techies 💰⚔
I wonder if it might have something to do with revisiting history. In the last year I’ve opened to more accurate versions of history; as opposed to those written by the victors to control the people, diluted into drill-and-kill nationalist propaganda for tweens. It seems important to know how we really got here, so that we can untangle it all and choose something different.
History is story. Story is a form of education. We construct it with words as well as with silence. History is medicine. History is poison. The process of unlearning through receiving different stories of history this winter led me to write this piece. How did I come to inherit colonial tendencies? How am I just learning about that? Time to bring in Sara Wolcott’s thesis: ReMembering the Story of the Anthropocene Age: Papal Bulls of Domination, Private Property, and an Ecotheology That (Re)members Towards Creating the Beloved Community.
Wolcott argues that colonization–and specifically the international law of Doctrine of Discovery–form a powerful origin point for climate change (vs. CO2 emissions from the industrial revolution onwards, per the dominant narrative), as the alienation between “man” and nature was wrought and played out on dark-skinned and feminine human bodies two centuries prior to the Enlightenment. She finds that there’s a big difference between what happened and how we remember it. And, if it wasn’t this way before, it doesn’t have to continue this way anymore.
I write the following with the utmost sincerity, acknowledging that I benefit from stolen land and resources, as well as oppressive systems that are violent towards Indigenous and Black communities. I’m reminded of the words of activist Sally Roesch Wagner: “The greatest likelihood is that, as a white person, I will get [writing about Native people] wrong; the highest probability is I will cause damage.”
Where to begin?
Doctrine of Discovery // In the 15th century, a series of Papal bulls (decrees) blessed the invasion, capture and enslavement of non-Christian peoples and to have their possessions and property seized by Christian monarchs.
A) Romanus Pontifex (1455)— The Bull to King Alfonso V of Portugal led to the terror of the displacement of Africans and their forced re-creation as part of the slave trade stemming from West Africa.
B) Summis desiderantes affectibus (1484)— “The Witch Bull” led to the terror of the destruction of European indigenous ceremonies, which connected people to their sacred lands, and the burning of the women’s bodies separated poor Europeans from critical components of place-based knowledge like medicine. Francis Bacon notably borrowed from the inquisition of witches to frame the scientific method of “discovery.”
Note: Sara includes this bull in her analysis, though most people do not.
C) Inter Cetera (1493) — The final set of “Domination Bulls” upon Columbus’ return formed the third point of the triangle: the “demolition” of the Americas which included the violent destruction of indigenous peoples and their disconnect from the land. For a deeper dive, see Shawnee filmmaker Steven Newcomb’s documentary “The Doctrine of Discovery: Unmasking The Domination Code.”
Finally, the 1823 Court Case Johnson v McIntosh codified the Doctrine of Discovery into U.S. law and practice, despite the newly formed nation’s insistence on separation of church and state. Johnson has been cited and relied on by Australian, New Zealand, and Canadian courts up to the present day.
This religious doctrine–now in the secular arena–was and is still used to deny the rights of Native Americans. The Vatican refuses to repeal these bulls, despite repeated requests by indigenous organizers worldwide.
→ 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.
So how is this relevant to 2021 Clubhouse rooms on conscious capitalism, mindful entrepreneurship and systems change?
Colonization enabled the industrial revolution and subsequently climate change // We find the origins of the contemporary market economy in the interests of European Monarchs who considered it their divinely appointed mission to spread Christianity to the New World through forced conversion and exploitation of nature and bodies,
beginning with the destruction of Caribbean land into monocrop sugar plantations, operating on the inputs of stolen land from “merciless savages” (The Declaration of Independence’s term for the Indigenous people of this continent) and stolen labor from displaceable and “sub-human” Africans,
where the factory process was prototyped and optimized for the industrial revolution to take hold in England, where a new working class comprised of those who had become landless from privatization of the commons (see Enclosure Acts) were fed sugar cookies and coffee to placate exhaustion and speed up production,
later developing diseases to be treated by a medical institution that had violently stamped out traditional forms of medicine carried by women, in line with the reductionist science of the Enlightenment thinkers and the conception of a “clockwork universe” in which man is separate from nature and thus able, through science, to discover, divide, rationally analyze and then use the natural world for human “progress,”
building wealth from private property (both land and intellectual) exclusive to the white men who conceived of the new systems, ingrained in a new form of government “by and for the people” that would come to serve business interests via military support domestically and abroad, with a legal responsibility to maximize shareholder value and no accountability to harm caused to people or the natural world.
→ “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)
We are reeling from this legacy today, everyone and everywhere. This subjugation and exploitation of ”barbarians”/Earth/animals/women vastly increased the wealth and power of the “superior”/male/rational/civilized people, laying the foundations for white supremacy and racialized capitalism, ecocide and the Anthropocene Age, as well as other existential risks of our time. Colonization explains much of how we came to inherit a society wildly out of balance, wracked with generational trauma and inequality.
“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.
Some core attributes of colonizer consciousness include:
- 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
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 🚀
These are the genocidal entrepreneurs whose shoulders we stand on. The first multinational corporations with a charter to take it all (The Dutch West India Company was created with the specific goal of occupying and exploiting Brazil). Broken children intoxicated with gold, glory, salvation. Addicted to power. Racing to solve random market inefficiencies they have no personal connection to, or commoditize new frontiers that extract life force from people and things in the name of “progress.” Changing a world that desperately doesn’t want to be changed by people like them anymore. The means through which material wealth is irrelevant, and the potential unintended consequences hardly an afterthought. The mentalities used to develop and deploy the tech unchecked.
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.
Like COVID-19, perhaps these “leaders” are simultaneously diseases, gifts, and teachers. Like many things in life, they contain Light and Dark, and always lessons. Good examples and horrible warnings. Thank you for all the good/fun/ease you’ve created in the world. And, please see how you are hurting us and yourselves. And, thank you for showing us where things are out of balance.
That which goes against the laws of nature is not going to last. Life is going to continue showing us where we are out of balance. These are gifts and messages to change things. Like signals from our body, if we ignore the signs, the signs will only intensify. Lessons will repeat themselves until they are learned. Right now the Earth and her children are screaming in pain. In March a single gust of wind in Egypt gave the global economy a heart attack, and the NYT’s takeaway is about managing supply chain risk. We’re at the mercy of the numbness of a calcified, stubborn and cowardly worldview; the hubris to impose it on others without consent or collaboration; the conceitedness to believe all one’s thoughts are right and righteous; the blindness to the connection to the ills of a deranged society; the momentum and autopilot of firing all cylinders without ever taking rest. Colonizer consciousness prevents healthy sensing of the world around us. This is sick.
We shouldn’t be surprised. Mark Zuckerberg famously idolized Emperor Augustus (who described himself as savior of mankind, b/c he brought peace to the empire through violent seizure of land, resources and turning “barbarians” into civilized people), had “domination” listed as one of his interests in an early Facebook profile, was known to triumphantly slam his fist on conference room tables and yell “Domination!” and his precursor to stealing the idea for Facebook was FaceSmash: violating privacy to compare the attractiveness of female classmates. What seeds are entrepreneurs really watering? What types of people do we want to grant power to? Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund believes the entrepreneurs who make it have a near-messianic attitude, and that wild-eyed passion is not a bad thing by any means.
“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.
Which invites us to think: maybe this mentality–which most technologists are totally unaware of–is wrong? While technology has an inherent liberatory quality, as soon it’s attached to an imperial mindset that liberatory quality disappears, or is deeply threatened (like what happened with Christianity). Recall, the early days of the Internet were led by a bunch of anti-establishment hippies, who desperately wanted to instantiate its emancipatory potential, rather than its eventual commoditization into neo-colonial surveillance capitalism and attention economy. But we can make better choices with upgraded principles to meet the moment: we can obsess over values, instead of engagement metrics; strengthen existing brilliance, instead of assuming more technology is always the answer; make the invisible visceral, instead of assuming harms are edge cases; enable wise choices, instead of assuming more choice is always better; nurture mindfulness, instead of vying for attention; bind growth with responsibility, instead of simply maximizing growth (see: Center for Humane Technology).
I admit I have a complicated relationship with these Tech Gods; some parts anger, some envy, some compassion, and many parts curiosity on how to invite them into healing. Edgar Villanueva in Decolonizing Wealth promotes cultivating empathy for people like this, as a pragmatic choice in order to end the cycles of pain and hurt, divide and control. He argues:
“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.”
In other words, if we can develop a clear understanding of what created a Zuck, we can see how they are victims of the same systems that have exploited us as well. We can focus on the patterns in the systems, instead of the person who is a natural expression of them, and then get curious about how we are perpetuating those same patterns in our own work and lives. Looking at our personal and collective history, we can learn which mindsets land behaviors lead to what harm.
“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.
History tends to repeat itself. Or at least rhymes. Many tech and business leaders I know are voracious readers; some go as far to identify as students of history and seekers of Truth. I’m one of those. One of the things that got me to give a damn was history. Could relearning unorthodox history be a compelling way to start observing the stories that are shaping our lives and world in such profound ways? The amount of time and effort it takes to get to that epiphany moment of “oh shit, we’re doing it again” is testament to the power of the violent systems we have created and inherited. This version of the Matrix is so strong that the vast majority of us are neither aware of it nor remember what created it. We need to dis-cover and reveal what our cultural source code and consciousness is filled with.
How do we shift this paradigm? What and how do we teach the next generation to create in an all-win way? How do we undo our colonial conditioning that seeks to extract “value” at every opportunity? Where do we want to lead each other? For a deeper dive into tech x colonialism, see Sareeta Amrute’s keynote talk from EPIC2019.
Walking a More Life-Honoring Path ☀️
In pondering what the remedies might be for colonizer consciousness, I’m reminded of that well traveled Einstein quote in wellness tech circles: “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” I wonder if we need to update this idea to include:
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.
Thank goodness for innovative and progressive organizations like (just a handful on my radar) Zebras Unite, Black and Brown Founders, Impact Shakers, Founder Gym, Hella Social Impact, Homerton Changemakers, Backstage Capital, JumpScale, WeFunder Radical Engineers, Start.Coop and more that are providing a counterbalance to the extractive, vacuous, monoculture of YC / VC / B-School startup culture. Surprise: they are mostly led by folks who have been excluded from the old boys club. Check em out and find ways to get involved. This is “the future.” At least I hope so. Let’s invest in this future.
“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.
How do we prepare for millions of achievement-oriented youth armed with 10-tricks-to-become-billionare listicles, atrophied attentional processing, and the democratized power of technology and spiritual experiences? We’re going to have a whole generation trying to get rich by doing something big and impactful, with the same old colonial playbook. Taking on immense pressure to fill the biggest shoes of finding a somewhat arbitrary pseudo-purpose that legally excuses marshaling resources for the recognition that one is, in fact, living their best life. No matter how social and well intended their mission, the existing playbook plays right into the hands of colonization, extractive capitalism, and white supremacy culture. How do we inspire aspiring entrepreneurs to center ethics and inclusion, and challenge assumptions at the idea stage to design for what is life affirming > wealth accumulating? How do we discourage the pursuit of excessive wealth accumulation?
It’s okay to want to change the world. The problem is when people think they are the only ones, the best ones, or the first ones. And it’s totally cool to want to make enough to provide a better life to yourself and your family. The problem is when it’s 100x what you need. Is that not sociopathic in these times? How much is enough and how to get there in a healthy and harmless way? How to achieve modest financial sovereignty through starting a business, that can proliferate and have an impact, without centralized scale (see multi-stakeholder co-ops)? What should those with class privilege do with their resources and position? What is the moral justification for starting a C-Corp today? Or trying to solve a big problem you don’t personally experience? Or starting anything from a place of pain and trauma? Should friends let friends go down a path of systematically extracting so much life that it gives them the ability to personally extract as much as they want, while in the process isolating themselves from symphony of life, and committing greater crimes without commensurate accountability? How does one make effective choices? What would happen if we let down our swords and our guard and admit we have no idea who we are or what the fuck we are doing?
Decolonizing Silicon Valley will require serious education reform within existing business and engineering institutions, and experimental offerings outside of them. We need to help leaders locate themselves, re-politicize their context and orient their personal development journey towards wholeness and harmony with life on Earth. We need to tell new stories of personal success. We need to promote examples of alternative forms of capital, governance, ownership and non-ownership. We need to stop giving undo recognition to broken leaders who are unwilling to shift power. We need to stop romanticizing explorers (see how Scholastic recommends teaching The Explorers unit to elementary schoolers), business success, Silicon Valley in its current expression. If Silicon Valley is to move fast and break or disrupt anything, is it colonizer consciousness? Challenging such prevailing worldviews feels imperative in these times.
Earlier this year I proposed new curricula for business school education and for technologist education. In reinventing myself from Messianic founder to humble educator, I now aim to help founders come into right relationship through crafting learning journeys, alignment plans, thought leadership & personal retreats. Given my life experience, I think I can be of service to other high achieving, personal growth-oriented, young founders who are excited to learn how to bring their creations into the world in a more aligned way. To question assumptions, be changed, and share their stories outwards. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but do have a lot to give, having researched and experimented and networked in this alternative social, political and economic spaces for five years. Note: Much of my latest analysis and offerings have been informed by the history I learned with Sara, which has launched me into a series of conversations with folks from a variety of backgrounds. I’d like to continue deepening my understanding of this history, in conversation with her and others, so I can support those in my networks who are ready for this work.
In order to do tech well, there are historical and decolonizing aspects that require contact, because they involve critical relationships with spiritual practices, land, property, Indigenous peoples, issues of diversity, politics, water and other endangered resources. Yet these dimensions are often overlooked, if not erased. Especially in wellness tech. e.g. if balance is a core value, is ownership equitably distributed? We don’t get wellness in the world without coming into right relationship with these aspects to inform our ontology and epistemology (embodied sensibilities that are informing our instincts). We need to shift our ways of being in the world, such that they inform the worldviews and instincts with which we make daily choices for designing products and organizations.
Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater; there is plenty to celebrate about the contributions of science and technology. We absolutely need wiser business leaders and technologists. And now that we know better, we can do better. Let’s name this Colonizer Consciousness and Silicon Valley Savior Virus, talk about it, study it, and address it holistically (physically, emotionally, spiritually). Pathologize it, while not outcasting or blaming or shaming those who may be enacting it, for they have innocently inherited these structures and haven’t had the chance to heal and come home. We need to create safe and compelling spaces for those in power to remember how we got here, so we can start the process of undoing and creating something new. If we forget, we’re doomed to repeat the same mistakes, at a time when we so desperately need to learn.
For me, getting well has required more slowing down, resting, unplugging, play, nature, reflection, community, resensitizing and attuning to the subtleties at all levels of life. Reading about and discussing historical inequities. Connecting with the pain and traditions of my ancestors. Divesting and scrutinizing consumer choices. Desegregating my life. Looking at how I’m approaching my relationship with the Indigenous peoples of the land I’m living and working on, and learning about and actually meeting them, because they are still here. Making business decisions that are more equitable and inclusive (open source, multi-stakeholder co-op). Creating rituals for myself to practice an orientation of giving over taking (Gifting to People, Gifting to Nature). Cultivating practices of reciprocity. Learning about my bioregion. Listening to Indigenous voices. Learning what else I can do to celebrate the good, lament and learn from the unhealthy, and explore ways to take responsibility for any past injustice which has benefited me today. While exercising self-suspicion, as we know where good intentions have the tenancy to lead us.
“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
I’ve tasted the deep satisfaction of cross-cultural relationships and can feel the wholeness Sara speaks about. It’s like all this connective tissue is coming online to unfog my eyes and guide me through life with more connection, belonging, enchantment. And while acknowledging the large stack of privileges I hold, and the intersectionality of antisemitism, patriarchy and more–I can definitely point to personal damages like mental health challenges from being physically overworked and verbally abused in professional jobs, fear in my body from experiencing homophobia and transphobia, injured relationships from nickel-and-diming collaborators or fixating on what I can get out of somebody upon meeting them (usually money or sex), and grief of not knowing the names or stories of my family past my great grandparents. Shame and anger at learning to hate my body, becoming addicted to screens, participating in misogynistic culture, feeling concerned when in physical proximity to people that don’t look like me, mistrusting those of perceived lower socioeconomic backgrounds, and unconsciously upholding systems that are harming communities and the planet. See also: Part I.
Even now, I can see ways I’m perpetuating colonizer consciousness in my writing: by not asking a native person for their perspective, being lazy about citing every source, attempting to prescribe and define new terms, trying to squeeze every possible nugget in, speaking in universalisms, typing long after my arm has started twitching and cheeks are tight as hell. I could have done a better job at embodiment.
And our work will involve not just decolonization (unlearning), but also Indigenization (re-learning). To work towards creating a lifestyle based on the first Indigenous principle: “Respect the Earth and have a Sacred Regard for All Living Things.” Through elevating and integrating Indigenous knowledge and perspectives, we stand to gain a richer understanding of the world and role in it, whether how to be in a healthy relationship with the Earth or reconnecting with the traditional ways of our own ancestors that we have forgotten as a result of colonization and assimilation. We can upend a system of thinking whose foundations of greed and subjugation are no longer serving, so we may work towards a more just and harmonious way of life and world that considers many diverse voices, while creating a shared understanding that opens the way toward reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. I’m certainly guilty of cultural appropriation and over-romanticizing Indigenous wisdom and spirituality, without as much respect and honor, or acknowledgement of sociopolitical history and current issues like territorial dispossession, psychological well-being, and inequities in healthcare and criminal justice that many Indigenous face. I can do better. Maybe. After living in the Bay Area for 5 years, I still haven’t paid a land tax to recognize my access to stolen Indigenous land.
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?
Silicon Valley needs healing. Will it be led by seasoned entrepreneurs injecting each other with ketamine over the weekend, or newly minted coaches offering online courses and tropical retreats on ushering in the new paradigm, or “conscious” investor circle jerking without an analysis of power and privilege? Idk, I feel like I tried all that, without much to show. Transformational practices disconnected from their natural context and ethical training can be dangerous, as peak experiences get filtered through a white colonial lens, potentially causing more harm at the end of the day.
We may have learned set and setting, but have yet to develop a strong culture of integration and accountability. With peak experiences becoming this generation’s shiny toys, catapulting newly psychonautic young tech bros into a sea of whitewashed yoga and meditation, neo-colonial digital nomadism, exclusive transformational festivals and conscious entrepreneurship as opiates for capitalist discontent, it is imperative that we develop (through a decolonize lens) tools and community and support practices to help the Tim Ferriss (considered a gateway drug) or Joe Rogan listener along a path of personal healing, without exacerbating collective suffering. I cannot understate how rampant psychedelic use is amongst existing and aspiring tech Gods — even six years ago Tim claimed the majority of billionaires he knew worked with them.
And what has been the impact on business culture? Not a whole lot. Acknowledging all the personal healing that takes place, it has been said that these non-specific psychic amplifiers tend to “make somebody more of what they already are” e.g. engendering even more conviction in Messianic or other types of possessed behavior. So either we haven’t figured out how to effectively use these psycho-spiritual tools for that shift from personal to societal transformation, or maybe that change is actually impossible, given how diametrically opposed our economic institutions are to what is life-giving and holy. In which case, what are we to do? Maybe there is good reason why ancient cultures safeguarded these tools (e.g. Kabbalah could only be studied after age 40).
In response to reading this piece, Ivana Balazevic reflected:
“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.”
Consider instead that Silicon Valley’s healing (as well as other domains) may be led by underestimated founders bringing their outsider perspectives and resilience to humbly serve people and planet, and the racially just organizations that hold space for their brilliance. It may be supported by investors who have the boldness to heal their relationship with money and work to shift power, vision to create space for their founders and teams to experiment and create and live in a more life honoring way, and sincerity to value the immeasurable. It could be inspired by educators imagining new pedagogy for unlearning Silicon Valley and relearning right relationship with all life. It might be fueled by young people who are emotionally and spiritually unable to tolerate anymore bullshit. It has the potential be culturally regulated by those who have the courage to hold each other accountable to the externalities of their innovations and choices. Can we imagine what’s possible when we have different folks in leadership and new sets of relationships with each other?
Let’s move from ‘if you can measure it you can improve it’ to ‘if you name it you can transform it.’
For my people in the impact, social, ethical, humane, transformative, mindful, conscious, wellness, spiritual, regenerative tech spaces: I think it’s time we courageously embody our missions even further. Let’s question the grand narratives and dissolve the hubris that got us into this mess in the first place. Because many of us are repeating the same mistakes. Let’s embrace the responsibility to set a better example in our individual paths towards wholeness. Let’s find ground, put down the idealism, stop appropriating, lift up others, pass the mic, question our bullshit, think and act locally, identify and stay in our small corner of the web of life. Let’s be better allies, in active relationship with the wise people we say we are learning from, actually helping to address their political and economic challenges.
Because the bros are going to keep coming (think Billy McFarland of Fyre Festival). I know this group well because I was raised in the bro tradition. We get crazy ideas. We can’t see our blind spots well. We are starved of good role models and guidance. How can each of us be a humble candle light for our respective communities? I’m inspired by initiatives within the Psychedelic Renaissance like the North Star Ethics Pledge and Here & Now Studios that are offering powerful stories to guide better behavior and hold individuals/organizations more accountable, in a way that the digital wellness / humane tech space didn’t quite do for Siempo and me at the time. Not for lack for of intention; the 20teens were just a different time. We’re all learning.
“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
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.
This feels edgy, because it involves giving up privilege. I’ll admit that I am somewhat confused about what to do/say/learn in this era of culture wars, purity politics, callout culture, thought policing and performative allyship. I notice how I went to extremes in spirituality in order to over-correct for the fratty upbringing described in Part I, and can see myself making a hard left towards social justice as an over-correction for spiritual bypassy-ness. I want to show up for racial justice, be in solidarity with the Indigenous, and build connections across other lines of difference. Will becoming a social justice warrior make me more or less effective as a bridge? I can hear the reel of backlash soundbites against postmodernism, wokeisim and identity politics, and yet those are the people I feel more drawn to learning from as a re-balancing act.
Maybe I’m just scared. How much do I want to be changed? What pitfalls can I learn to avoid in the process? How can I do my anti-oppression work to the depth required, without alienating those I love? What happens when I do or don’t write about white supremacy to my audience? What place does politics have in tech entrepreneurship? Which voices at the intersection of justice and spirituality should I listen to? What bridge-y language is out there or can be created? Who do I want to work with? How can we awaken solidarity in those with power? I appreciate the metamodern lens of transcend-and-include all the perspectives, though I notice how white the community coalescing around it is, and am trying to resist the pattern of saying “this is the thing!” I just don’t know.
In remembering that I don’t need to have all the answers, I’m reminded of Simon Mont’s integral words on this topic:
“We can accept the world as it is, and reject it, and accept the rejection while rejecting the accepting.”
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.
This has been a challenging piece to write, as there are seemingly endless layers to consider. A book or PhD thesis might include research into epistemology, metaphysics, linguistics, archetypes, the meaning of life, God, duality, good and evil, scripture, redemption, salvation, resurrection, the second coming, false Messiah’s, Christian hegemony, fundamentalism, the promised land, Protestant Reformation, Karma, Dharma, Dukkha, yin and yang, the Tao, free will, indigenous cosmologies, initiations, Plato’s cave, Greek mythology, Icarus syndrome, logos and eros, retrocausality, Jung, shadow work, the collective shadow, depth psychology, narrative psychology, Internal Family Systems, Soul, astrology, mystery schools, dark night of the soul, neo-Shamans, wounded healers, star seeds, The Galactic Council, Mayan calendar, Kali Yuga, conspirtiuality, utopian experiments, New Thought, the law of attraction, Nazi Hippies, secret societies, cults of personality, gurus, machiavellianism, Narcissism Personality Disorder, ego death, Karpman drama triangle, savior dynamics in relationships, victimization, adult developmental theory, integral theory, the crusades, tyrant kings, the story of Separation vs Interbeing, the Minoans, the invention of race, the de-enchantment of nature, manifest destiny, the legacies of slavery, the property system, empiricism, humanism, intellectual property, Puritan culture, the American Dream, corporate personhood, Marxism, neoliberalism, shareholder theory, Emerson, Descartes, Ayn Rand, Edward Bernays, myth of progress, myth of meritocracy, the drug war, hustleporn, personal sovereignty, ends justifying the means, finite and infinite games, global meta-crisis, collapse of complex societies, complexity science, game theory, disinformation, digital naturalism, creative distruction, Game B, the meaning crisis, eco-justice, global vs local solutions, the human potential movement, Orientalism, public intellectuals, transhumanism, right mindfulness, spirituality as sedation for capitalism, giving power away, harm reduction, restorative justice, liberation theology, indigenous sovereignty, Standing Rock, climate change, runaway AI, surveillance capitalism, DAOs, the care economy, reparations, queer theory, Emergent Strategy, Afrofuturism, consumerism, Jordan Peterson, postmodernism, white guilt, white fragility, white savior industrial complex, internalized oppression, Doughnut Economics, Decolonizing Wealth, Winners Take All, conscious capitalism…
^ makes me appreciate how two people with different life experiences have endless things to teach each other, how futile it is to try to know it all, and silly it is to believe in having the answers.
In embracing the identify of a life-long learner, I’m in inquiry around what to prioritize next. Torah study? Permaculture? Critical theory? Finally take the blockchain/Web3/NFT/DAO plunge? A friend recommended naming and refining some of the big questions that I’m actually asking, as a way to guide my learning journey. In this moment, I’m wondering:
🍃 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?️
There are no simple or easy answers. These questions are big enough that it will take a lifetime or more to answer them. We are merely creating conditions for our children and grandchildren to better address them. I wrestled with this essay for months, frustrated with the enormity of its demands. I still am not fully satisfied in the way I imagined. Shortly before publication, I dreamt that I had The Answer to it all. I turned it over in my mind enough times to remember it. I woke up and forgot.
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Let me know your feedback! Let me know if you need any support. I’m happy to share more of my story on podcasts, in-person events, and in other written publications. There is clearly a book’s worth of analysis here to synthesize. I would be open to putting energy into that if it is desired.
Andrew is a student and teacher at the intersection of tech entrepreneurship and personal development.
He supports founders in coming into right relationship, through crafting Learning Journeys, Impact Plans, Thought Leadership & Personal Retreats.
Special thanks to the following friends and family who have provided feedback on this piece: Belinda Liu, Tim Chang, Sara Wolcott, Nancy Zam, Mathew Lazarus, Julia Plevin, Megan Parker, Jeff Pawlak, Briana Halliwell, Zoli Kertesz, Anna Smedeby, Kanupria Sanu, Barbara and Chuck Dunn