A Native Son of Palo Alto Thinks His Hometown Will Kill Us All


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I meet Malcolm Harris, voice of millennials and anti-capitalist crusader, at a Brooklyn espresso store, steered by his publicist for a book-tour interview. He goes for a guava croissant alongside along with his $3.75 drip. He hints this isn’t an endorsement of a bourgeoisie micro-luxury, however an ironic jab on the media tycoons of Condé Nast who’re selecting up the tab.

Harris, a spry 34, is producing appreciable buzz along with his ebook, Palo Alto. He is aware of the city and the tech business it sits on the coronary heart of effectively. He grew up there, was schooled there, and even discovered journalism at Palo Alto Excessive Faculty beneath Esther Wojcicki, mom of the (not too long ago retired) YouTube CEO Susan and former mother-in-law of Sergey Brin. His antitrust lawyer father took on Microsoft in a main trademark case within the mid-aughts. However as an creator, Harris is much less into forging a primary draft of historical past than utilizing analysis to advertise his preexisting standpoint. “It’s not a piece of journalism,” he says of his ebook. “It is a Marxist historical past.” 

No matter you name it, Palo Alto is epic—an unrelenting 700-page indictment of capitalism, California, and the city that railroad baron Leland Stanford named in 1876 to honor a tall tree that also stands, and shortly after made the house of his new college, which nonetheless dominates the area. Some may view Harris’ ebook as a companion piece to a different doorstop-sized chunk of tech rejection, Shoshana Zuboff’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. However Harris thinks Zuboff’s ebook overemphasized the surveillance half and went too simple on the capitalism. “It doesn’t actually get to the worldwide political economic system,” he says. 

Harris’s ebook will get there, in spades. In his sprawling, colloquial narrative, historical past isn’t a sloppy development however a nefarious plot serving capitalism’s theft of individuals’s labor and dignity. His touchstone is the system by which Leland Stanford bred racehorses, which mixed genetics with a novel emphasis on pushing horses to run sooner at an earlier age than was the customized. (Type of like Transfer Quick and Take Issues.) Harris applies this “Palo Alto System” as a metaphor all through, branding all the pieces from enterprise capital to Tiger Woods’ coaching strategies as inhumane descendents of Stanford’s unique sin. After all, one may argue that, having been nurtured within the city’s famed college system and its tech group, Harris—a deft wordsmith and an efficient marketer—is himself a product of the Palo Alto System.

Harris has no issues digging up extra villains than a thousand Marvel-verses. There’s Stanford, in fact, and the primary president of the college he based, David Starr Jordan, who allegedly murdered Stanford’s widow. (At the least that’s what Harris thinks.) The college’s early psychology pioneer Lewis Terman not solely promoted eugenics-based IQ exams, we be taught, but additionally slept along with his college students. Harris even assaults well-meaning leftists like congressman/activist Allard Lowenstein for working too deeply contained in the system. (Harris heaps scorn on the Grateful Useless wing of the protest motion; he’s the man on the SDS assembly who screams on the stoners at the back of the room.) More moderen scoundrels embrace Silicon Valley’s vaunted founders. Invoice Gates and Steve Jobs are smelly “jerks,” he says, however “extra significant as personifications of impersonal social forces.”

Harris has a real supervillain, although, in William Shockley, the Nobel-winning physicist. Shockley, father of the transistor, Stanford professor, and founding father of a Silicon Valley semiconductor firm, was a racist bully who absolutely deserves Harris’ one-word summation: asshole. 


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