💸 Context

Key Themes of Lesson

From Minoans to Greco-Roman Empire

Papal Bulls and Doctrine of Discovery

All wealth is built on stolen land and labor

Business Foundations of American Democracy

Military and Consumer-Industrial complex

Class inequality

Venture capital

Saving the world

Diversifying information intake

Key Resources

Anti-Racism Daily - email newsletter

Seeing White - Podcast series

Technologists haven't really needed to think much about people or planet, because millennia of asymmetric power structures and dominator mindsets have rendered that unnecessary, unprofitable, unintelligent, uncool. Businesses are not held accountable to the negative externalities they produce. Different ways of knowing, being and doing have been subordinated, criminalized, stamped out in favor of "progress" at all costs.

One doesn’t need to identify as a Marxist or social justice warrior to recognize the suffering of the world, how social constructs operate in our pysche, and how that informs power dynamics and systems. We can’t create a better world if we don’t look at and deeply analyze the mindsets and behaviors that led to our precarious situation in the first place, examine our personal and collective history and understand how that relates to the challenges of the present and maps to visions for the future, and embrace the beauty of multiculturalism and joy in connection with a diversity of stories and people and ideas. It’s challenging terrain. A long journey, unique to one’s personal experiences, ancestry, and position in society. But crucial in this increasingly divisive and destabilizing time.

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The Zebras Unite community expresses this energy well. One of my greatest inspirations in the business world, Zebras Unite is women / BIPOC led community with thousands of entrepreneurs and professionals who are committed to creating a more ethical and inclusive startup culture. Distinct from that of the exponential growth mindset that possesses the celebrated “unicorn” companies of Silicon Valley, “Zebras” has become a shorthand for aspiring entrepreneurs, investors, media, and adjacent communities as the expression and signal of a forward-thinking, long-game economy and business culture where ambitious companies build the goods and services we need for the society we want.

Similarly, I don’t believe we get Zebra companies without Zebra people. So what makes a Zebra person?

Well before the events of 2020 exposed deep systemic flaws, there was a growing chorus of voices highlighting the dire need of a new way of being with each other and with the Earth. Employees staging #techwontbuildit boycotts and walkouts at Big Tech firms. Business leaders from Larry Fink to Marc Benioff to Ray Dalio making statements against market fundamentalism and endless growth. Wharton undergraduate students pushing back against norms of success. Davos talks deconstructing business school rankings. The hottest new class at Harvard Business School is Reimagining Capitalism.

“The most significant and transformative human rights project is one that has received little attention within the human rights domain: challenging the corporation itself and re-imagining our economic enterprises.”

We grow up with lots of stories about history, money, economy, purpose, etc that serve the interests of a small power elite that has amassed wealth largely through theft, force, manipulation and legislation. “Rags to riches” and “self made man” stories are few and far between and often conceal the costs and context in which that was made possible.

The Silicon Valley impulse to “save the world” follows in the steps of US foreign policy to “spread democracy”, Christian missionaries and explorers to “convert the savages”, and the Roman Empire to “bring peace” at the frontier. It is filled with assumptions of cultural superiority and that the quality of life of other people is worse, economic motives (whether to extract resources or open new markets for exports), and ego-ic motives to fulfill a sort of hero’s journey.

No business is created in a vacuum, although it would be convenient if this were so. Pick an industry and you will find a complicated and violent history of how business has relentless oppressed people and/or planet. Rent an office and you are on land that was stolen. Use a laptop and you are connected to an intricate network of slave labor.

Forgive yourself for not knowing until now. Most of us and our parents did not receive this sort of education, and you would be hard pressed to access it while working for a company. Most founders are not filled with mal intent, but it’s their naivety about these histories and dynamics operating inside of them that leads to unintended consequences.

Understanding this history may give you more empathy for strangers, partners, colleagues, victims of violence everywhere. It might inspire you to learn more about your family’s lineage and their experiences.

This is not to say that business is BAD and you better reconsider doing it. There are infinitely many choices you get to make on this path. The better you are informed about reality, the more empowered you will be to make effective choices that support the wellbeing of all agents in the system.

INNOCENCE / COMPASSIONN

SV so good at propoganda / storytelling..

Unlearning Silicon Valley. Not just a critique. Learning the other side, for an integrated whole.

I actually fought for better labor conditions..

I thought

Travel writing anecdote college course thought so cool!

Power with vs power over

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Incarceration

Breakout Discussion

What is his country really founded on? What are you really founded on?

Case Study

Facebook, Uber, Robinhood, WeWork, Theranos

Why This Matters

With the majority of tech founders and venture capitalists representing a homogenous life experience (male, upper middle class and above, cisgender and heterosexual, ivy league level education, fraternity, etc.), we’re getting a certain type of digital world with widespread physical externalities.

Looking back, it can seem like Zuckerberg’s path to world domination was inevitable. There’s the computerized version of Risk he coded in ninth grade; his long-standing interest in the Roman empire; his obsession with information flow and human psychology. There’s the story of his first bona fide internet scandal, when he hacked into Harvard’s directory and lifted photos of students without their permission to make the hot-or-not-style website FaceMash.

At various points over the years, he’s listed the following interests in his Facebook profile: Eliminating Desire, Minimalism, Making Things, Breaking Things, Revolutions, Openness, Exponential Growth, Social Dynamics, Domination.

We inherit all of this. And we can choose a different story.

[my saving the world story]

Even in college, my favorite class was a writing seminar called "Business or Pleasure?" that looked at the writing of a young gentry class exploring foreign courts and lands..

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Possible Exercises

Intergenerational trauma

-What trauma and stories are you holding? -What are you questioning?

-Whatever profession or location you are in, I encourage you to learn the people's history of it.

Resources

A People's History of the United States

Lies My Teacher Told Me

Otto Scharmer’s U.Lab on Transforming Capitalism

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