If you haven’t read Part 1, please do so. The story I’m in the process of telling is not one to enter in the middle. It is too strange for that–– it becomes nigh-unbelievable the scrupulous accounting that I have painstakingly provided.
If you’re caught up, welcome to the fourth circle. Five more to go.
In case anyone forgot, Nazis are bad. That hasn’t changed in the past 48 hours.
Chapter 13: The Misappropriation of the Nerd Archetype
During its fifty-year reign, Silicon Valley has created one meaningful invention: the disposable company. That is its true product.
In order to understand how we got here, we need to look into one of the more irritation, inexact archetypes of the modern era–– the nerd, stereotypically associated with hyper-intelligence and middle-class authenticity. A nerd is endearingly harmless, straightforward and socially uncomplicated, and vaguely asexual. Nerds are authentic because they only have one mode of interaction–– they lack the social skill of keeping separate multiple version of themselves. You might find the nerd in your life infuriating, but you can trust her.
In the 2000s and 2010s, this evolved into frank disability appropriation. Software executives–– bullies who swept into the tech industry to exploit nerds–– will often use “aspie chic”, despite being neurotypical, to excuse damage caused by their lack of empathy for other humans. This blurs an important distinction–– between a neuro-socially disabled person’s reduced capacity to appropriately express empathy, and the psychopath’s utter absence of it.
Software executives, for the most part, are people who wanted to be somewhere else. The top third of business school graduates go into hedge funds and develop trading strategies. The middle third go into management consulting or do “soft” work in private equity. The ones sent West to boss nerds around are the leftovers. They don’t like being there, and they view the people working for them as unlikable misfits, but over time they grow to view nerds as a puzzle–– how can this type of person’s earnestness, ego, and social inadequacy be used against him?
One failing of nerds is the desire to avoid “politics” and focus only “on the work”. To say, “I just want to code.” This results in programmers building systems without asking how they’ll be used; it gives us the weapons of mass unemployment, and it gives us the “performance” surveillance inflicted on honest workers.
Nerds, as I’ve noticed, don’t have a lot of leverage in today’s workplace, because they tend to fall behind the curve when it comes to performative emotion. They tend to fail at the effusive over-emotion that American culture expects. Neurotypical people understand that a person’s real job in a corporate workplace is to mirror management’s anxieties, without actually being affected–– to be Xanax in human form. Nerds, to their detriment, are straightforward and legible. They either shut out exterior anxieties (which management reads as disengagement) and focus on the work, or they let the nervousness get inside them, taking a hit to performance. They lack the essential two-facedness that workplace survival requires.
The neurological social ineptitude we observe in people with autism, and in the hyper-intelligent, is not what we find in software executives. Software executives know what the rules and expectations are, and they break not out of unaware earnestness, but as a means of belligerence. The breaches of decorum, the microaggressions, and the brazen flashes of non-empathy, those all use the archetype of a nerd as air cover, but these people are something else.
What characterizes the Silicon Valley software executive is a deep-seated contempt for human “softness”–– for empathy and for what makes us human. His dream company employs zero people–– no emotional cooties–– and makes a trillion dollars per hour.
I’m not against technology itself, of course. At a nuclear or higher technology level, post-scarcity automated luxury communism is the only economic system that stands a chance, and we should race to it. Automation and globalization aren’t evil–– we have to do them right, to distribute the wealth decently. We cannot trust the current financio-technological elite to do it right. If we leave the job to them, we’ll watch as they build increasingly profligate toys, migrate to off-planet bases, strip mine the Earth, and leave the bulk of us to die.
Chapter 14: The Disposable Company
A corporation, legally, has all the rights of an embodied person (corporis). It has none of the weaknesses, however, that come with a human body. It is designed to live forever. It cannot be put in prison. It commands such an obscene share of society’s resources that it can become “too big to fail” and stake an economy’s health on its persistence. It is increasingly unaccountable to the nations in which it operates.
That’s not an artificial person. That’s an artificial god. Gods only die in one way: people stop believing. That’s what killed Ereshkigal, Zeus, Thor, and Enron. Financial markets tell us, in real time, how strongly society believes in each god–– and how willing a society is to overlook the failings of the corrupt priests who take for themselves what is sacrificed to these gods.
In the corporate gods, I’m a nonbeliever. For quite some time, though, I bought in to the venture-funded technology industry (Silicon Valley). I let myself get duped. Silicon Valley is a god designed for nonbelievers.
There are thousands of venture capitalists, but only a few of them matter, and they mostly live in a small geographical area. The ones in the in-crowd, who can arrange publicity and introduce clients, decide as a group what gets funded, what gets bought at large companies, and what gets shut down. Silicon Valley is a factory for lightweight companies that can be inflated if circumstances demand it, but that can also be scrapped or mined if necessary. If the workers form a union, or if a founder goes to jail for domestic violence, the syndicate of investors will decline to participate in the next funding round, and redirect its resources and clients to another option in that space.
By design, these venture-funded companies cannot survive without a new infusion of cash every 18–24 months, because it is not only a one-time investment these companies require. The bosses on Sand Hill Road give them clients and publicity, and hold sway on whether, should the company fail (as most do) to become an independent concern, the founders get a favorable job outcome in the acquisition.
Founders present themselves as entrepreneurs running independent companies, but they function as a middle management layer between the true executives (investors) and the workers. They have no choice but to accept the venture capitalist’s high-risk, aggressive growth plan. If the founders fail to keep the VCs happy, they won’t only lose their companies, but they’ll lose their personal reputations.
Startups are risky, of course, but if you listen to people like Paul Graham, you shouldn’t fear this risk because even failure will advance your career. No, you won’t become an IPO billionaire this time around. You’ll have to take a time-out as a VP at a FaceGoog, and you’ll have to show up at a place once or twice a week, but you’ll be able to recover on your own terms. That’s not how it works at all.
Founders sometimes get “soft landings”–– most “acquired” companies are six months away from failure when bought–– but not because employers value their experience. When the VCs decide that it’s time for one of their companies to die–– they have no interest in funding it further, or sending it more clients, or pulling strings to arrange publicity–– they understand that founders typically don’t agree with the decision, and have some leverage in the shutdown process. Legally, founders are within their rights to fight, but that would delay the inevitable result, and damage reputations in the process. So, instead, the VCs make sure the founders will land in desirable jobs (e.g., VP-level sinecures at the acquiring company, “entrepreneur in residence” roles) and have acceptable financial outcomes. A startup acquisition is usually a hush fee paid to those who will have strong (if unfavorable to their ex-bosses, the VCs) opinions on why the company didn’t work out.
What about employees? What about the engineers who build the product? Oh, they get shanked.
Chapter 15: What Startup Failure Actually Looks Like–– Or: Why Your CTO Drinks
Here’s the picture most people have of business failure. The boss comes in, calls a meeting, and says that the company is defunct and that everyone’s next paycheck is the last. It’s awful, but it isn’t personal. The laid-off worker’s reputation stays intact, and she gets a comparable or better job, because of the experience and contacts she’s acquired. This is what venture capitalists, when they spew claptrap about “embracing risk” and “failing fast”, want people to imagine. Consequently, by this narrative, a startup that is not defunct is nowhere near failure.
In truth, a venture-funded startup’s failure is an ugly, drawn-out process that unfolds over years, often invisible to regular employees, that sinks the careers of innocents by the tens or hundreds before anyone figures out what’s going on.
When a venture-funded company starts to fail, it’s still able to raise money, but it has to get capital from less-connected investors and the terms get worse over time. This is why technology companies are cagey about the details of the “equity” (in truth, illiquid call options on penny stocks) they offer to compensate for low salaries. Deal terms can be mind-bogglingly complex–– I won’t get into that here–– and it’s not uncommon for a startup to be acquired for $250 million while its regular workers, after liquidation preferences and several rounds of financial shenanigans, get nothing.
The failure process of a venture-funded firm occurs in stages. Founders cede control, or initiate “pivots”–– complete changes in what the company exists to do–– and the result is a culture of constant reorganization. Upward mobility is rare because, as the company is forced to accept worse terms to raise capital, executive positions are sold off to friends of investors. Founders of foundering companies insist, while this is going on, that everything’s going exceedingly well, and they blame subordinates for shortfalls.
This results is jobs getting lost, and I’m not talking about layoffs. I’m talking about humiliating terminations “for cause” of innocents. The startup environment is a downhill highway, full of busses barreling down at a hundred miles per hour, and you don’t have to do anything wrong to be thrown under one.
The sociology of a churn-failing startup is fascinating, but for now, just trust me: this is how it always goes. Venture-funded founders do not admit they made mistakes. They blame the people under them. Technology is first to suffer blame, because it’s a soft target. Nerds don’t fight back, and nontechnical investors and bosses and clients don’t understand what they do.
To a young programmer, being a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) seems like a dream job, but it’s actually a high-stress position with a lot of turnover. When the company fails to execute, nerds get the blame.
An old-style company, when it had to lay people off, had the decency to admit that circumstances required it to terminate good workers. Often, firms would work with the press, at their own expense, to ensure that the reputations of departing workers were unharmed. That’s not how Silicon Valley does these things, because it’s run at the highest levels by empathy-deficient psychopaths–– who’ve taken the nerd label to give themselves plausible deniability.
When a tech founder founders, he presents himself as a visionary impervious to mistakes. Alas, his subordinates failed to implement his brilliant ideas. He didn’t fuck up; they sabotaged him!
This industry’s full of 25-year-old companies that claim they’ve never had to lay anyone off. Their history is one of monotonic progress that will never end. Dig deeper, and what you find is that these companies, during bad economic times, laid people off just as non-tech firms do. The difference is: tech firms disguise layoffs as firings for cause or for performance reasons–– protecting management’s reputation, at the expense of now jobless employees.
Technology founders present a mythology in which they either win big (get rich, buy boats) or die as a group. That’s not how it works, though. Startup failure takes 5–10 years to run its course as it usually involves a slow deflation in the founders’ standing in the investor community–– and these people will macerate workers by the hundreds before they go down. The “prima donna” programmers screwed it up. “Technical difficulties.”
Founders survive startup failure if they do right by their investors. If they shut the company down, when and how their bosses ask them to do so, their reputations stay intact and they can be founders again. Workers? Fired, no severance, often for phony performance reasons to disguise a layoff.
The disposable company’s political appeal is right-wing: no matter how badly the workers are treated, it is unlikely to unionize.
Most of Silicon Valley culture and mythology can be understood as anti-union prophylaxis. Programmers are led to believe they’re getting some “revenge of the nerds” against the girls who rejected them in high school by working on Jira tickets and making low six figures. Workers are pitted against each other–– tech versus non-tech, designers versus engineers, employees versus “red badges” (contractors), old hands versus entry-level–– in order to keep false consciousness strong.
Workers in a venture-funded company know that if they unionize, the VCs will simply nonexist it.
Chapter 16: Post-Truth
Corporate capitalism is a post-truth world.
I don’t love Jeb Bush, but his candidacy in 2016 was not ended on substance but because Donald Trump labelled him, “Low Energy Jeb.” What does that mean? It’s hard to say. It doesn’t matter. There need be no factual truth to it. It stuck.
Donald Trump pulled a corporate in presidential politics and it worked.
In Chapter 7, I mentioned the Carly Simon Problem. Someone misinterpreted an old blog post and he stabbed me in the back–– a reliable job reference turned negative. This raises an interesting question: why are negative references so damaging as to render otherwise excellent job candidates unhireable? It has nothing to do with the hiring manager believing the content of the negative reference “is true”. It’s probably not. In the corporate game of promotions, demotions, performance appraisal, and terminations, there is no truth–– there is only power. People get what they get.
Someone who gets a bad reference is unemployable because he “got got”. Was he bad at his job? It doesn’t matter. Donald Trump illustrated this viewpoint when he slagged a literal war hero, John McCain: “I like people who don’t get captured.”
Reputation, in the world of corporate false consciousness, is an entity unto itself. It need nor respect what is true. Donald Trump’s success in life proves this. He has shown no talent in running businesses. He has shown no significant intelligence or creative ability. He has been a degenerate reputationeer for forty years and it has worked. All he needed to kill off most of his political opposition, in his rise to the presidency, was a knack for nasty nicknames.
My personal view is that one should never invest oneself, or trust, in reputation. It’s too easily destroyed. It is a volatile asset, increasingly controlled by the world’s worst people. But it is not only distant, very rich malefactors one must fear. If I were a bad human being, I could render unemployable any young professional I wanted–– with less than $1,000 and in under 48 hours. I won’t get into the strategy, for obvious reasons, but it doesn’t take brilliance. Such a person would be sidelined at his job and, over time, terminated. Prospective employers would Google him, see a slew of rumors and whispers, and pass. Truth doesn’t matter, in the corporate world. No one wants to hire someone with a bad reputation.
Chapter 17: Reputation Management–– Keeping the Gods Alive
Why is reputation so important in the modern economy?
Largely, it’s because the most highly compensated people in our workforce do absolutely nothing. There are workers and watchers–– most white-collar people are watchers who participate (sometimes, indirectly) in the buying and selling of others. Those who do measurable work can be tracked, surveilled, and bargained against. The winning strategy is to get an advanced degree, keep one’s contributions abstract, destroy anyone who has the gall to point out the needlessness of one’s activity, and focus full time on the protection and expansion of one’s own reputation.
The most highly-compensated people justify their consumptive existences by saying they “allocate resources”. That is, they do nothing but “solve”, in political and suboptimal ways, problems that could be solved organically by a less oppressive system.
Napoleon may or may not have called England “a nation of shopkeepers”. Thanks to corporate capitalism, we’ve become one of reputation managers. A worker is promoted, demoted, passed-over, or fired based on his contribution to his boss’s reputation. The middle manager is likewise rewarded or punished for his perceived effect on the reputations of the executives above him. A CEO’s job is to bolster the reputation of the company he supposedly also runs. Innovation is nonexistent; the work itself hardly matters at all. It’s all about reputation, but why?
Above, I mentioned that the modern business corporation isn’t an artificial person but an artificial god. What can kill a god? Disbelief. Whether a true God exists in the abstract is another discussion, but ethnic gods are beasts that exist in society because they have reputations for existing. Corporations are the same.
The business world runs on reputation–– a product of cognitive laziness, social inertia, and a low degree of respect for accuracy in information. Every white-collar worker’s job is the management of some reputation. This is why a rumor about someone, no matter how absurd or demonstrably false, renders him unemployable. The rumor’s existence shows poor performance in the management of the target’s own reputation. How can he be trusted to defend and expand a boss’s image, if he can’t even control his own?
Nothing is true or false, in the scatological agora of corporate life. There is no good or bad content; all is just content. Things are loud or quiet, amplified or ignored. Rank begets rank. The longest eigenvector wins the right to poke you in the eye, or somewhere else if it so desires.
Chapter 18: Is the U.S. at Risk of State-Level Fascism?
I have no love for Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, or George W. Bush. This said, their professional ethics, while in office, were world-class compared to those of the typical corporate executive. Richard Nixon resigned over offenses that, in the private sector, would be everyday office politics. Government, we hold to a higher standard.
The Age of Reason, as begun in the European 1700s, led to the institution of rules-based, rational governments operating on laws rather than clerical fiat or the whims of charismatic individuals. The rich have largely accepted rational government as beneficial, the alternative being unpredictable; but in the 1800s when this led to discussion of rational economy–– also known as socialism–– they did what they could to slam the breaks on progress. National governments could be democratic, constitutional, and legalistic… this would make their operation slow-paced and “boring”, which would be good for business… so long as no one interfered with the boss’s “right to manage” on the factory floor.
Rational government and pre-rational economic principles coexisted for some time, but modern technology has made this untenable. One or the other must go. Which?
The Age of Reason has always had its skeptics. A pervert and not-even-middling French intellectual, Donatien Alphonse François–– also known as the Marquis de Sade–– managed to gain relevance by his inflammatory anti-rationalism. He believed that, given the human thirst for power and delight in the suffering of others, rational government could not exist. (He was wrong.) Donald Trump, our first truly corporate president, has doubled down on anti-rationalism. In a perverse irony, his supporters find him to be “a straight shooter” even though half of what he says is untrue. He uses mendacity as a power move (a business-world trick he has, over decades, perfected) and to some people, by doing so he communicates the only truth that matters–– that he’s in charge.
Fascists do not believe in truth. They only believe in power. Power decides what is true; power makes the rules. Donald Trump was impeached (unsuccessfully) for abuse of power. To a fascist, the term “abuse of power” makes no sense. In their view, we who are out of power are “losers and haters” using the term abuse toward power because we do not have it. To a fascist, no rules should exist over power.
Donald Trump is racist, misogynistic, self-indulgent, mendacious, volatile, deleterious, incompetent, and stupid. Is he a fascist?
Chapter 19: What Is Fascism?
I described earlier that no one is truly a nihilist, because meaning voids get filled. A person can be unprincipled, but that is different. Systems can be nihilistic or even destructive of value (cf., corporate capitalism) but, in an individual, nihilism is untenable.
Political nihilism, when observed, has a flavor of might making right. This goes back to antiquity. Trial by combat, on its own terms, solves two problems at once: the party that wins goes free; guilt passes to the deceased. Everyone wins because no one is alive to lose. It’s a great system if you don’t believe in truth.
Fascism, of course, isn’t just moral nihilism. There is more to fascism than a belief that might makes right; the notion is celebrated. Furthermore, while fascism is fundamentally empty, it presents itself not as nihilistic but as a rebellion against nihilism and relativism. Fascism promises answers. It is decadent and empty but blames society’s decay and emptiness on vulnerable minorities, or external enemies, and by doing this, it fills the failing society’s purpose void with hatred.
Corporate capitalism has little apparent interest in state-level fascism. It is amoral and nihilistic, but it is too lethargic to overthrow democratic societies if there is no profit in them. Much of what drives fascism to emerge in its wake, as it did in 1920s Italy and 1930s Germany–– and as it could have done in 1930s America–– is that people would rather live with a bad purpose than live, as they would under corporate capitalism, with no purpose.
Fascism doesn’t simply assert that might makes right. It celebrates the notion. Like philosophical sadism, it confronts something ugly in human nature (the problem of evil) that stymies well-intended philosophers and theologians and, instead of treating the malady as a flaw to worked around, embraces it and declares it good.
Every time we encounter another person, we decide whether to cooperate or compete. Societies generate rules to determine whether we favor one or the other. A nation might use a market (competition) to price commodities but institute a basic income or welfare state (cooperation). Representative democracy holds that we cooperate as citizens, but that those who wish to gain and hold power must compete for it. Competition, then, is introduced to make power accountable to the governed.
Fascism is the dual opposite of that. The people are divided against each other, constantly measured and compared, and locked in endless battles for artificially scarce resources. Power, at the same time, unifies. State, cultural, religious, economic, and corporate power congeal into an inflexible fasces.
A fascist society introduces competition to make people accountable to the ruling elite. There will be competition in high places, but it must only be seen from above. Fascism’s ruling class must present a unified front at all times. There will only be one political party, one leader, and one vision for society. All else is the enemy–– the other.
In the corporate world, people with bad bosses think they can improve their situation by appealing to HR or a higher-level manager. I have never seen anyone make that work. Usually, they get themselves fired. To a fascist, the attempt to divide power against itself is unforgivable.
Chapter 20: Why Corporates Might Favor State-Level Fascism
It’s said that if you scratch a capitalist, a fascist bleeds.
Corporates, outwardly, like to play both sides. They take on liberal identity politics and conservative economics, while striving for an image of centrist pragmatism. They will almost always, however, favor a rightward lurch over even modest leftist progress. Why? They view fascism as an in-one-country problem. They will move family if safety requires, reallocate capital to take advantage, and wait out the storm. Genuine social progress is more of a threat to their capital and social status, and–– worse yet–– likely to have longevity. What is “socialism” before it is implemented, people like once it is there, and it becomes impossible to roll back.
The United States has always associated leftist politics with radicalism, but in our recent history, we’ve faced orders of magnitudes more danger from thee right. The Weather Underground, at its worst, was a nonentity compared to the horror of the Ku Klux Klan. We live under active threat–– school shootings, theater shootings, church shootings, synagogue shootings–– from a belligerent, far-right counterrevolution the corporates manufactured to divide the proletariat against itself, for the benefit of the ruling class, and to distract people from the widespread, but notionally centrist, looting of society by the executive class.
Why do corporates present themselves as centrists? Frame dragging. They want to nudge the Overton Window to the right, but they do so by holding on to the zero point. Despite Machiavelli, they’d rather be loved than feared. Machiavelli’s advice in The Prince pertained to an individual seeking to block short- and medium-term challenges to his power, but an owning class that wants to hold power forever will prefer, in peacetime, to make itself loved. That is the purpose false consciousness serves. In event of active conflict, however, they will resort to fear.
The way I’ve discussed fascism may sound bloodless. With my focus on the unification of the ruling class–– and workers competing to serve the masters–– it might seem that I’m downplaying fascism’s end-stage horrors: racism, misogyny, religious bigotry, belligerent nationalism, and genocide. Not so. Those emerge as a matter of course. A fascist leader’s goal is not to rack up a body count per se, but to hold power at all costs. This said, the people governed will not tolerate ceaseless competition without a narrative of expansion. If the poor figure out that they’re being pitted against each other for the benefit of the rich, they’ll revolt. Instead, says the fascist, they’re being prepared for a grand conflict, an upcoming war–– in which they are predestined to win, because of national, racial, religious, or cultural supremacy–– in which the society will prosper and expand (Lebensraum) through the vanquishment of undeserving, “inferior” people.
Narratives in the startup’s corporate playbook are not especially different. The “lean” (understaffed and underfunded, with workers artificially divided against each other) startup is destined to drink the milkshake of its “bloated” competitor because “We have a better culture”, because “All they do over there is play politics”, because “No one over there works Sundays.” Sure, many of the workers–– the weak, the unworthy–– will burn our or get fired; but in the end, the startup will demolish its competitors because of its superior “culture”.
Chapter 21: Masculine Crisis
Economic systems like ours produce epidemics of masculine failure. High-status, rich males never need to grow up (that is, become men); low-status men are denied the opportunity. Men and women lose.
I recognize that I need to tread with care here. I make no absolute claims about men or women. I categorically reject any line of thinking that declares one sex superior to the other, or that encourages the stigmatization, exclusion, or punishment of those who do not conform to sex or gender roles.
It’s an inoffensive, common leftist position that gender is entirely socially constructed, but I don’t think that’s true. Much of it is, of course. That Brian is a boy’s name, and Emily is a girl’s name, that’s socially constructed. That pink is a feminine color, or that truck driving is a masculine job, that’s socially constructed. That said, there are patterns that recur in societies to such an extent as to suggest sex-linked differences in the aggregate–– in probability distributions, even if not relevant at the individual level.
I agree that gender roles do not suit everyone. This said, if one looks at the cultural mainstream, one finds deep-seated attitudes that, right or wrong, will not be abandoned by 90 percent of the population at once. Heterosexual men, in general, want to see themselves as masculine, and are attracted to women they perceive as feminine. Heterosexual women, in general, want to see themselves as feminine and are attracted to men they perceive as masculine. I’m making no statement on what should be–– only one on what is.
Corporate capitalism has a problem. It requires men to live on their reputations. That is not masculine. Subordinate men, in a courtier society, are seen as obsequious and supernumerary. Men do not want to see themselves that way; women are not attracted to such men. For this reason alone, corporate capitalism is unstable.
To be clear, I don’t think women should have to live that way either. I focus on the masculine side of this crisis not because that, in my view, is what drives the lurch toward fascism. Men who support demagogues like Trump do so out of rage at their emasculation by corporate capitalism. Women who support demagogues like Trump do so out of rage at the destruction of men in their lives.
Masculinity is, and will always be, the weak point of hierarchical courtier societies. Traditionally masculine endeavors (hunting, exploring, defending) do not pay. Corporate capitalism must sell the narrative that making money is a sex act. A real man provides, even at the expense of his own comfort. If this means he peddles drugs to children, or builds bombs, that’s what he does. If this means he supports a fascist regime, that’s what he does. Freedom is just another disposable comfort of lower rank than his obligation to “be a man” and provide.
The problem, of course, is that court life is emasculating. Men who earn their coin by subordinating to other men are useless. Women are the reproductive bottleneck, not us. In our role in the reproductive equation, we’re replaceable.
Corporate capitalism tells men they must provide, but only leaves them one way to do it, which is to be emasculated by other men. Eventually, men figure out that they’ve been duped. They get angry. Equally angry are the women who, in a decaying society where male adulthood is increasingly rare, cannot find husbands.
Is it emasculating to be an organizational subordinate? Five thousand years of human history has produced exactly one counterexample, one context in which a man can be subordinate and fully masculine–– the archetype of the soldier.
We see yet another reason why fascists love war.
I could write thousands of words on toxic masculinity, but I’d rather not. It’s disgusting and depressing. Our economic system induces toxic masculinity. The degradation of the feminine distracts men from the game being played against them and women both. At the same time, toxic masculinity is what keeps the corporate system going. Inertia does not suffice to explain it. The corporate system is always busy. It propagates false consciousness, enforces a social hierarchy, resists challenges, and bolsters the image of a hereditary elite disguised as meritocratic ubermenschen. That’s not a conspiracy–– it’s all done in the open, and legal even if its methods aren’t–– but it is a lot of work. Who keeps it going? What motivates the plutocrats and corporate executives who (unlike us) could easily retire from the world’s shittiest mini-game, but keep playing?
For the most part, the system’s raison d’être is to procure sexual access for rapacious, disgusting men. Harvey Weinstein, Roger Ailes, and Donald Trump wouldn’t have a lot to offer women if they had to compete on an even footing with socioeconomically inferior but otherwise superior men like me (and like 99% of my male readership). Corporate capitalism is a way for these odious men, using paperwork and poverty, to disempower their competition.
The reason we do not have health insurance in the United States is that, in 1947, a bunch of racist Southern Senators fought a movement that would result in desegregated hospitals. Millions of people have died of lousy or nonexistent health insurance because a bunch of now-dead, inadequate white men feared losing “their” women to… not the British Broadcasting Corporation.
Chapter 22: Is Donald Trump Fascist?
This might be the only section where I don’t know the answer. Is Donald John Trump a fascist? I don’t know.
He is heinous and bizarre. We could be debating fifty years from now whether he is a fascist or opportunist. His mental health is questionable, but I’m not qualified to opinee on that topic. He seems to have no coherent ideology. There are fascists around him–– that’s clear. There are also opportunists around him. There may be one or two noble souls putting his career at risk in a sacrificial effort to limit Trump’s damage. As for whether the man holds fascism in his heart, we’ll tackle that some other day.
Objectively, we can say that Donald Trump has normalized behaviors and practices that threaten democracy, making the job easier for any fascist who follows him. What about capability, though? Is he capable of making himself a fascist threat to this country? Three years ago, I would have said, “No, absolutely not.” On that, I must admit my confidence has waned.
Having studied fascism, I would have said in 2017 that Donald Trump would be unable to pull the requisite image off. Adolf Hitler was a wealthy, self-indulgent, flatulent buffoon who had a number of trysts, and Mussolini’s sexual perversions are now legendary, but the public images these men presented were more in line with stoic, traditional masculinity than the flagrantly toxic variety of Berlusconi, Bloomberg, and Trump. It was all a lie, but the Fuhrer presented himself as a simple-living celibate bachelor, “married to Germany”. He himself said that a politician should never let himself be photographed in a bathing suit.
Donald Trump, for a contrast, lived like a clown for his entire adult life. I did not think, in 2017, that such a man could sustain enthusiasm of any kind, fascist or otherwise, for more than a couple years. I expected his movement to die out as he became part of the establishment he railed against.
So far, time has proven me wrong. Toxic masculinity hasn’t been a liability for Trump. He has doubled down on it, to no cost to himself. Fascism has proven itself protean.
This acknowledged, I will not say that Donald Trump poses no fascist threat to our society. He clearly does. But, I continue in my belief that he hasn’t taken the most efficient or obvious route to fascism. In 2016, he nearly lost. His approval rating is lousy. If he wins in 2020, it will have had more to do with Democratic incompetence than any appealing personal traits of his.
All of this said, and recognizing that a fascist can play either to traditional or to Trump’s overtly toxic masculinity, the greatest fascist threat in my view comes not from Trump, but from Silicon Valley. We could see, in 2024, a young technology founder running on an image of centrist competence, with a sterling reputation (because anyone who would say bad things about him has been silenced), who will present himself as “post-political” and an antidote to “these polarized times”. I would imagine that he would avoid the public self-indulgence of Donald Trump, while nonetheless bolstering his personal reputation (at the expense of others) using the same dirty tricks he learned in the corporate world.
Whatever Trump’s fate, what Trump represents will not go away. The corporate class has taken notes, and continues to take notes, on what works and what doesn’t. The owners of everything are watching his deleterious presidency and learning what can be gotten away with. So long as corporate capitalism remains our economic system, we shall always be one bad roll of the dice away from nation-level fascism.
Fascists fight dirty. I know, because I’ve seen how they fight.
For the purpose of this essay, I’m going to call militant fascists, Nazis, differentiating them from the abstract notion of a person who might support fascism but not participate in enforcement. The far-right militants I’m about to discuss are not members of the German NDSAP, because it no longer exists. They may or may not be in that nonexistent racial category called “Aryan”, although most of them are white-male supremacists. The people on the intellectual fringe who spout odious politics on the internet, we’ll stick to calling fascists. The enforcers and dirtbags who–– let’s say–– send death threats to leftists and feminists, or who cause people to lose job opportunities they were qualified for, those are the modern-day Nazis. We will have to fight them.
Chapter 23: Panic Disorder (Trigger Warning–– Mental Illness)
If state-level fascism comes to the United States, I will be one of the first to die.
This issue, for me, is not about so-called virtue signaling. Whether I’m a virtuous person, that’s for another discussion. To be in this fight, for me, isn’t a choice.
I can’t become “not political”. In a more liberal time, I wrote political content under my real name. At this point, there is no harm in my continuing to do so. I am an outed leftist. My existence is political. I’ve been doxxed over and over. I assume I have no privacy. I don’t feel like I have anything to hide.
Far-right operatives got me banned from Hacker News and Quora on defamatory pretenses. Far-right operatives have sent me death threats. Far-right operatives have caused me to lose job opportunities even after successful interviews, leading to offers. The Nazis know who I am; they will not forget me.
Of course, I chose to speak politically in the open. There is no such thing as an “ethnic leftist”. To share my views is something I decided to do, not something I was born into. Were that the only factor pinning me inflexibly to one side, in any future conflict with fascism, I could not say “The fight chose me.” I would have to fess up to having entered it.
So, here’s the other part of the story.
I have a chronic neurological disability, manageable but not curable.
March 3, 2008, was an unseasonably warm, sunny day in New York. I was recovering well from an ordinary bout of influenza. Around 2:30 that afternoon, a stabbing sensation erupted in my throat, spreading throughout my body. Laryngospasm. Couldn’t breathe. Tried to drink water. Couldn’t swallow. I was sure that I was going to die, in front of my co-workers, right there on the floor. A woman, able to see my distress, called emergency services.
Diagnosis: panic attack. There was a physical cause to my illness; more on that later.
The second attack, on March 10, was the worst I ever experienced. I had written the March 3 attack off as a one-off, but now I realized I would keep having these things. It came in waves, for 23 hours, until fatigue took over after midnight the next day. During that one, I considered admitting myself to a psychiatric hospital.
I had more, tens or hundreds, over March and April. Often, I could not eat a meal because I could not swallow. After some time, I found a competent doctor, an ENT in Chinatown who found a bacterial plaque, left over from the flu–– an easy problem to treat.
Problem is, once the body and brain are “trained” into the panic process, it becomes a thing that can happen, without warning, at any time. Panic attacks, for the most part, aren’t “about” anything–– nothing in daily life merits such an extreme bodily reaction. These attacks don’t often have clear triggers and, at this point in my life, I don’t think panic is the right word for it. I don’t actually panic. I’ve cycled through the five hundred or so symptoms this horrible disease can throw–– chest pain, shortness of breath, auditory hallucinations, derealization, tachycardia, tremors, tingling, intrusive thoughts, sudden depression, vomiting, akathisia–– and, having survived all of this nonsense, I’m no longer scared of these attacks. It took me years to get to this point, mind you, but they’re more like severe headaches than anything that would cause me to “panic”.
Truth is, if I have a panic attack in public, I handle the episode better than anyone else. I’ve been through it, hundreds of times. I know that these things end.
I won’t mince words, though. A true panic attack is extremely unpleasant. Even now, I’d probably pay $500 not to have one. I would wager that a quarter of the population has had the movie version of a panic attack–– racing heart, hot flashes, mild visual disturbances, nausea and vomiting. I consider that a mere anxiety attack and would put it at 2.25 on the panic scale, as I’ve come to know it. At 4, the level I have about once per year, we talking about symptoms that would put a civilian in the emergency room–– if he could form the words to get himself there. At 6, every system in your body’s screaming, and you’re begging God for your own quietus… and you’ll be sore for a week afterward in muscles you didn’t know you had. As for eight… well an 8 compares unfavorably to a bad salvia extract trip. It’s worse because, at the end of it, you know that it came from you, not some stupid chemical you ingested.
I haven’t had worse than 5 or so since 2010. In my experience, this sort of thing gets worse, and then it gets better.
Chapter 24: One Hit Point
I mentioned my mistake, in summer 2008, of leaving finance.
It became clear that I was not suited to work at a trading desk. By necessity, prop trading is done in a noisy, open-plan environment. I despise the software industry’s use of open-plan offices–– for programmers, they are unnecessary and qualify as hostile architecture–– but there are a couple jobs that necessitate them. I’ll defend trading firms for using open spaces, because seconds matter in that game, and a traditional office layout would be untenable.
What irony that I left finance because of open-plan offices, just before the plague of Agile de-professionalization, one-sided transparency, and (of course) open-plan fetishism hit the software industry.
I never had an attack as bad as the second one, on March 10, 2008. The dreaded Big One that would render me permanently insane, never came because it does not exist. That said, attacks continued to come.
A severe, punishing experience leads your mind to look for patterns, even if none exist. This produces phobias. If you have an attack on a crowded subway, you might mistakenly attribute it to the environment. At bottom (autumn 2009) I was a shut-in. Home was safe. Work was mostly safe. I could go back home (Pennsylvania) with preparation, but I’d sometimes have a nasty attack on the train. I didn’t date, because any time my heart sped up, the fear of an attack (anticipatory anxiety) would hit me. “Safe spaces”, as they do, got smaller and smaller, because no such thing exists. As Confucius said: Wherever you go, there you are.
No one ever intends to become a shut-in, to become agoraphobic. It happens one day at a time. To have panic attacks on a regular basis produces lethargy, apathy, and aversion. Dysfunctional cognition and self-reinforcing superstition accrete over time. Eventually, the entire world feels unsafe for no good reason.
It was not easy, but I built myself back from scratch–– recovery from 1 hit point. Limit break after limit break. I re-established the confidence to do ordinary things. I started dating again and got married. There was a first-again airplane ride, a first-again ride on a bike, a first-again drive, a first-again long hiking trip. I rebuilt myself from zero and, in the end, built a better self than what had been there before.
Petty phobias disappear when you beat the monsters, as I have. Public speaking is said to be the number-one fear of most people. (Death ranks second.) It’s not an issue for me. I took up scuba diving in 2015. In 2018, I swam with sharks (no cage) under 78 feet of sea water, off the coast of Honduras. That’s not as dangerous as it sounds, but it seems to impress people, so we’ll use it.
I must speak on the issue of safety. I can drive during an attack–– it’s unpleasant, but it’s not unsafe. However, there are things, given my diagnosis, that I will never do. In open water, I can safely ascend from 130 feet (4 minutes) in event of unexpected neuro-adrenal fuckery. Cave and wreck diving, those are out for good.
Chapter 25: Fearlessness (?)
The petty fears that restrain most people do not faze me.
It’s said that death and public speaking are the human creature’s two biggest fears. Death, I haven’t done yet, despite some half-hearted attempts by others. I can’t speculate on how much fear I’ll experience when I get to that point. In the abstract, I have no dread of it. If there is a hereafter, I look forward to meeting it; if there is not, I will not exist to be disappointed.
Public speaking, that one’s easier. I like it. I’m good at it.
Funny thing is, stress itself doesn’t cause the dysphoria that turns into panic. I can handle swimming with sharks, biking in heavy traffic, and the physical sequelae of an extreme workout. When there is purpose to the stress, I handle it well–– better than most people. It’s gnawing, pointless stress that angers me.
Inoculation to extreme, underworld-level fear has left me immune to the petty fears that rule most people. That is an asset in life. In corporate undeath, it is not. One achieves social success in the corporate world by mirroring management’s anxieties without becoming affected–– because if one becomes as dysfunctional as they are, one will be unable to perform. I am not good at this. I can, as corporate managers might desire, induce fear in myself based on minor discomfort and meaningless shit–– I am diagnosed as having a brain far too good at that–– but I have learned that it is unhealthy.
I’ve faced my own death, thousands of times in a body-brain mock execution, and quite a few life-threatening situations I haven’t talked about. Given this, I can’t force myself to care about “Sprint 31”. If a director’s worst fear is explaining to his VP that his software, version 7.0, doesn’t support the blink tag… he and I are not going to relate well.
I’m terminally one-faced. Mirroring another person’s anxieties without being affected by them, which is the most important office survival skill, is one I lack.
I don’t handle the open plan office well.
Stress? Under 80 feet of water, surrounded by sharks, with a compressed-air canister at my back, I’m fine. Diving is pretty safe if you follow the rules and keep your wits about you. Worst-case scenario, I’m 160 seconds from the surface. Giving a presentation in front of hundreds, on three hours of sleep… no issue. If my nervous system bitches out, I’ll play it off as a headache.
The mandatory 9-hour economy-class flight from nowhere to nowhere, five times per week, is not physically stressful. Its main demand is that I sit in a chair, to be seen by other people, and hold in any farts. Hardly Herculean, that. The problem is not the level of stress–– it is that the stress is so pointless.
Chapter 26: The Open-Plan Virus
I won’t opine on Jordan Peterson’s lobster theories, but it is true that we as humans are attuned to social status. Public speaking is stressful, but it’s a positive stress–– the stress of giving a compelling presentation, of having something to say that merits the high-status position of being the speaker. There is a job to be done; there is a point to the stress.
Office culture is not illegible. To be visible from behind is a sign of low status. Though tech companies boast of their “egalitarian” office architectures, the truth is that you can figure out exactly who matters and who doesn’t by counting lines of sight. Yes, the managers work in the open space, but they all have walls and windows at their back. This is how the company shows they are trusted, supported, and (no pun intended) backed up. The people whose monitors are visible to the largest number of people are the most disliked, least trusted, and first to be fired.
Additionally, it is infantilizing, the claim that open-plan offices are egaliatarian, because executives can come and go as they please, while workers cannot.
Open-plan offices are not productive. People get less done, perform worse on tasks requiring concentration, and get sick more often. Technology executives cite “collaboration” as a reason for using these horrible offices. That’s bullshit. The topic has been studied to death. People do not become more collaborated when they are enervated by constant unwanted visibility and contact. In truth, these offices breed low-grade hostilities due to noises, odors, and invasions of personal space.
What’s the real reason for technology executives to prefer open-plan offices? Never assume malevolence where ignorance suffices; I think 70 percent of it is that these offices are cheap, in all senses of the word. Another 10 percent is showmanship. The open-plan fetish began in the startup world as a means for founders to showcase how many busy nerds they have working under them. In this light, open-plan programmers are valued as carbon-based office furniture more than for the code they produce. (Having seen the quality of code these startups produce, I… nah, let’s skip this one.) A further 10 percent is classic managerial malignancy: control and surveillance. Finally, the last 10 percent of the motivation is the diametrical opposite of “fostering collaboration”. If personal space becomes another artificially scarce resource for the proles to fight over, they will grow to loathe each other’s company, and this drives to zero the probability of their cohesion around collective interests.
Open-plan offices, for programmers, exist to humiliate them–– to remind them that they’re unimportant and untrusted.
In that environment, my skin crawls, because I feel like I don’t belong, because in fact I know I don’t belong. In an open-plan, Agile Scrotum software shop, where it’s normal for people to interview for their own jobs every day as if they were interns or on PIPs, I feel like an adult sitting at the kid’s table.
Chapter 27: Trump’s America
A lot happened in 2016.
Far-right attacks on my career became common. I had to start hiding my tracks. I skipped a couple tech conferences because I couldn’t safely go to the cities where they were held. I was assaulted twice.
By this point, I was planning a “techxit” from the private-sector software industry. I had a strategy that would have probably worked but, due to post-2016 dysfunction in the public sphere, was unsuccessful. During this time, I joined one of the so-called “artificial intelligence” startups, a venture-funded outfit in Reston, Virginia, as a software engineering manager.
I’ve wrestled, over the past month, with the question of whether to name this company. Its founders are absolute fecal garbage. If I could name them without collateral damage, I would. If a time comes when that is the case, perhaps I will. The operation was one of chaos induced from the top by a culture of childish management and dishonesty to investors and employees alike. Why have I chosen not to name this company? Past experience.
The problem, when you slag a company, is that the people responsible get off. Barring a criminal conviction or an eight-figure lawsuit, the scumbags will always be supported and protected by other scumbags. The people responsible for a company’s terrible culture, they get off scot-free. The ones at risk of being hurt are regular workers–– fellow proletarians–– who did nothing wrong, but now have a tarnished name on their résumé.
Soon enough, I will expose by name an unethical organization (not an ex-employer) because it will be in the public interest for me to do so. In the case of this so-called “artificial intelligence” company, I see no public-interest reason to name it. I have ready made its investors aware of the founders’ unethical behaviors. I have done my job.
I ran a team of 17 people, and I must say this. The people working for me were professional, capable, intelligent, and all-around great to work with. It was a pleasure to have such a high calibre of people under me, and I would hire any one of them again. Not one of them is at fault, in any way, for the ethical faults of the company where they and I worked.
Like most software companies in the late 2010s, this outfit used an open-plan office and discouraged working from home. The environment was tolerable, for a while, because as a manager I had the right to use one of the unallocated side offices (“breakout” spaces). As a supervisor, I sometimes used it for one-on-one conversations. As a person who diligently tried to excel at his work–– and did, in fact, excel at it–– I sometimes used the side office to get my job done. As a person with a neurological disability, I sometimes used it to ride out an attack.
Chapter 28: Open-Planic!
Panic attacks, as I’ve said, aren’t “about” anything, although patterns exist. Phobias develop because one anxiety about panic attacks can, itself, induce panic attacks. Trying not to have a panic attack can, in fact, cause one.
Open-plan offices and micromanagement (Agile) exist on the theory that petty inducements of anxiety nudge the lethargic and unmotivated into marginal employability. That may be. I’m not an expert on the lethargic and unmotivated. For self-motivated people like me, though, those petty insults reduce performance. We don’t need to be watched; we’re at our best when left alone.
Such offices create anxiety in the neurotypical, but they feed into the anticipatory anxiety, the anxiety about anxiety. Have a panic attack in your living room, and you’ll probably be fine in an hour. Have a panic attack in an open-plan office, and you’ll be working somewhere else in 6 months. Perhaps they’ll find a way to fire you. More likely, you’ll be demoted and gimp-tracked. I’ve had it happen to me; I’ve seen it happen to other people. Bosses hear “panic attack” and do not think “manageable neurological problem” but “personal weakness”.
I dislike the term “mental illness”. I think it gets a key thing wrong. It is not the mind (or, if you will, soul) that is sick, in a person with depression, bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety, panic disorder, schizophrenia, or any other of these terrible diseases. We’ve moved beyond the four humors, and it’s time to move beyond sick souls.
These diseases are physical, but have mental symptoms. Thing is, we know today that most physical diseases have some mental symptoms. The lack of a clear causative mechanism does not merit a leap into superstition and stigma. The truth is that disorders like mine deserve the status of “boring” health problems like atrial fibrillation or cluster headaches. They’re unpleasant and can be dangerous, but they deserve neither the romance nor stigma assigned to them.
One of the reasons panic disorder gets easier to deal with, over the years, is that one learns that the attacks are physically harmless. I’ve had them while driving–– hellish, but not unsafe. Problem is, in the corporate workplace, a panic attack is not harmless. It can become cause for the bosses to presume personal weakness or reduced leverage, leading to termination or reduced opportunities–– gimp-tracking.
The rule of the open-plan office is simple: don’t panic. Don’t panic. DO NOT PANIC. Don’t panic. Panic? Don’t panic. Don’t panic don’t panic ¿panic? don’t panic they’ll see you they’ll judge you. DO NOT PANIC WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU. Don’t. Don’t. Don’t don’t panic. DON’T PANIC YOU CRAZY MOTHERFUCKER. Breathe. Not so fast. Not so slow. Breathe. If you forget to breathe you die. If you breathe too fast you panic you lose your job. Don’t. Don’t panic. Stop staring it’s creepy don’t panic. Stop it stop the panic this cannot happen here it is getting the better of you. Don’t panic don’t panic stop your panic they all see you. They all see you. You haven’t written a line of code for ¡¡¡13!!! minutes you panicky broken motherfucker you soon-to-be-jobless motherfucker they see you they see you as a they see you they ¡see! you. Panic, don’t. Don’t. PANIC. You cannot grasp the true form of… et cetera et cetera.
One might ask: is there medication for this sort of thing? There is. High doses of SSRIs reduce the frequency and intensity of the attacks, although the side effects are unpleasant. Benzodiazepines are a good short-term treatment, but they’re not a panacea. For one thing, it takes time for them to have an effect–– you take the drug to put an upper bound on the attack’s duration, and to smooth your recovery, but there is no way to abort an in-progress attack. You still have to get through the next five or ten minutes.
Furthermore, regular use of benzodiazepines (say, for prophylaxis rather than treatment) carries a high risk of tolerance and dependency. These drugs are a lifesaver when needed, but addiction is hellish and I do not use them except when necessary. My first-line prophylaxis, if I begin to feel raw at 2:00 in the afternoon, is to take a side office. Perhaps the attack will never come. If it comes, I’ll ride it out and get back to work as soon as I can.
At this particular company, the fake-news AI company in Reston, that’s what I did: used a side office. Most of my team was remote, so it didn’t matter where I worked. Other people began to use side offices, too. I did not intervene; who was I to say they didn’t have a legitimate reason for using them? (I hate open plan offices and think everyone has a legitimate reason to break away.) Anyway, executives took notice of people using the side offices to get work done, and HR got involved. I was labelled the one who “started the trend”, which I suppose technically I was.
The CTO and my immediate manager pulled me into a meeting, late in the afternoon on January 25, 2018. I was admonished about the use of side offices, even though I (and possibly others who used them) had legitimate reasons to do so. I was told that the CEO had “concerns” about the frequency of my doctor visits–– not for panic disorder, but for a physical problem that would later turn out to be gallbladder disease necessitating emergency surgery. Changes, therefore, would be made to my job duties.
Some of the changes I agreed with. I had a large team doing complex work and was excited about the prospect of running a smaller team and becoming an “individual contributor” (non-manager). I counter-offered with a proposal that was mostly identical, except with my non-managerial contributions in data science–– a natural fit for an AI specialist at a company that claims to do AI. The CTO’s refusal of this offer, and his explanation, made it clear that he was aware of my disability and presumed lesser leverage on the job market–– the ol’ gimp track.
Recognizing the obvious demotion, I confirmed in writing that I suffer from a disability, but would continue to give advance notice of doctor appointments (which, as I planned, might be interviews).
I was fired the next morning. Illegal? Yes. Expected? Not so quickly, no. Usually, when a company wants to fire someone for an illegal reason, it offers severance in exchange for an agreement not to sue or disparage the company. This firm, instead, decided to place a bet on extortion.
Hold on to your hats. Keep your arms, legs, and tentacles inside the car at all times.
Chapter 29: Octopus Royalty
Not long after this, I spoke to an attorney. She described my case, barring perjury, as a slam dunk. The problem, of course, is that “barring perjury, 100 percent” does not mean a sure thing.
Suing an employer is not like suing a tire manufacturer. You’re going up against an organization that can–– and, knowing the founders of this company, I am sure they would–– threaten people with their jobs into lying about your performance and professional ethics. Unless you think a seven-figure award is possible–– and for a highly-skilled 35-year-old whose disability is mild and intermittent, that ain’t likely–– you are often better off to make like a frozen and let it go, especially when the adversary is a startup that has the option of just not paying. If you win a judgment against a FaceGoog, you’ll probably collect. Against a money-losing startup? Remember what I said about a disposable company. It’s hard to collect on a judgment, after suing a hole in the ground.
Nonetheless, the company perceived it had a lot to fear from me, so they made threats–– the usual negative publicity, frivolous litigation, nothing I took too seriously. What I did take seriously was when my ex-manager said things that were not true about my departure to former colleagues. I informed him that I would not tolerate illegal, defamatory statements.
Threats continued. I dug up what I could about the founders and executives; they dug up a few things (minor shit) about me. Most of what I found doesn’t matter and is not well-enough sourced for me to get into it, even without naming them. I will only say this. One of the people involved in their extortion effort, I was able to link to a racist, far-right organization that advocates violence.
Great. Nazis in my life.
Chapter 30: Techxit Achieved (?)
That was how 2018 began. After that, I did some consulting, some weightlifting, and some work on Farisa. The next part of this story occurs mainly in May, 2019.
Before 2016, this would have been front-page news in the Washington Post, the kind of scandal that would have led to public resignations of top management. Now, we’re so used to public dysfunction that I don’t know if it even registers. But it’s my story, so I’m going to tell it.
Given my views of the technology industry, it shouldn’t be surprising that I tried to get out of it. In April 2019, I applied for a job at the MITRE Corporation, a federally funded research and development center (FFRDC) in MacLean, Virginia.
For reasons that will become clear, I will stick to what is factual.
My application led to a phone interview on April 26, one that was mutually successful. I left the conversation excited about opportunities MITRE had to offer–– about returning to R&D. MITRE invited me to an in-person interview on May 10. In about three days, I put together a presentation on set theory and why it matters to computer science. I felt like I did very well, and MITRE seemed to agree. On May 13, I received a job offer from MITRE, to join as a senior simulation and modeling engineer on June 3.
I accepted the offer that day, and put in my two-week notice at my then-employer on May 17. So far, standard job-change story.
I was thrilled to be out of the corporate world. Agile and the short-term nonsense, no more. Instead of working on sprint work for which I’m more than a decade overqualified… I’d get to work in R&D again.
Techxit successful? Or would this be like Michael Corleone’s “just when I thought I was out” moment?
Chapter 31: Nazis in McLean
“Out” leftists, feminists, and antiracists deal with people on the far right who follow our careers and try to interfere. In the startup world, it’s 50–50 whether you’ll still have a job, after that happens. It’s not that employers are dumb enough to consider right-wing keyboard warriors a reliable source–– they just don’t want to make a stand.
I do not consider radical the assertion that MITRE, an FFRDC that relies on the trust of the government–– the trust of the American people–– should be held to a higher standard than a fly-by-night tech startup.
“Mr. W” would have been my manager at MITRE. A leak of information occurred, between May 14 and May 30, and a far-right operative–– likely the one discussed in Chapter 30, because no one else fits the pattern of motive and opportunity–– leaked to Mr. W that I suffer from, and have been treated for, panic disorder.
Mr. W emailed me on May 30 to arrange a time when we could discuss what he falsely represented as a benign administrative detail. “Nothing to worry about,” he said.
We spoke at 9:00 am on May 31. He informed me that he had become aware of my disability status. He said, “I don’t see you ever getting a security clearance” with a diagnosis of panic disorder. (More on that, below.) Moreover, since I did not disclose my diagnosis–– I was never legally required to do so–– he rescinded the offer.
I will not argue against the federal government itself having the right to apply increased scrutiny, on the matter of security clearances, to people with psychiatric diagnoses. When lives are possibly at risk, the rules are different.
MITRE is not the federal government. Not all the work it does requires a security clearance. It is legal for a government contractor who terminate someone who applies for a security clearance and fails to get one. It is legal for a contractor to make an offer contingent on a clearance (a conditional job offer, or CJO). It is not legal for a hiring manager to discriminate against people with disabilities on the suspicion that they might take longer to clear.
I don’t know Mr. W’s politics. Is he a far-right operative? A Nazi? That’s between him and God. As I said, I’m sticking to the facts. Some time between May 14 and May 30, he spoke to a Nazi and made a decision based on information furnished by said Nazi. Whether he is guilty of mere irresponsibility, or bears blame for something deeper and more shameful, I do not intend to say. Here, it is essential that I stick to the facts.
During the conversation of May 31, Mr. W mentioned that he could only get away with rescinding the offer because of “our current political time.” Trump.
As it were, I had a full SF-86 looked over by one of the nation’s top security clearance attorney. I have no recreational drug use (including alcohol) since March 2008. I have no criminal record, no financial mishaps. Foreign contacts, the attorney said, might be an issue. My health problems, he told me, would be “absolutely no issue” for the level of clearance in discussion, and “would not significantly delay” the process.
It’s possible that the illegal rescission of the offer was not motivated by the stated reason, but the result of a far-right infiltration of one of the nation’s most important government contractors.
Either way, it was insanely fucking illegal.
I would, of course, put the probability of Donald J. Trump’s personal involvement at zero. I don’t think he makes time on his calendar to call up MITRE and screw over leftists with mild disabilities. I doubt he even knows, or cares, that MITRE exists. But he normalized the might-makes-right moral filth of corporate America, and brought it into the public sector, and by doing so, created a problem for me.
In May 2019, a literal outed fascist emerged from the woodwork to attack my career by sending true (I do suffer from panic disorder) but irrelevant information to Mr. W. This led to MITRE allowing the illegal rescission of a job offer made to a non-radical, non-violent leftist with a job-irrelevant disability.
The Nazis won.
Government, until 2016, was supposed to be immune to the bush-league chicanery we encounter in the startup industry. Illegal terminations and illegal rescissions of offers made are not supposed to happen there. Today, all bets are off. Be afraid.
I’ve studied fascism. I know what it means when a government tells people of a certain kind they now live under a five o’clock curfew. I know what it means when people like me experience rescinded job offers. Civilization’s enemy, fascism, starts with minor stuff–– boycotts, unionbusting, blacklisting–– before it builds up a seven- or eight-figure body count.
It’s difficult to predict which ethnicities and minorities will be targeted, in what order. We know that fascism takes the accessible first. It hits unionists and leftists and feminists–– people who speak out. It attacks people with disabilities–– whom it perceives as weak.
It’s tempting for people in that non-aligned majority to take comfort in the notion that they need not outrun the bear–– they only need outrun the other guy. For me, the fight’s not optional. I am that other guy.
The metaphor of a bear is not adequate, however. A bear, once sated, will cease to feed. Rather, what advances is a rising tide of ethical failure–– a saturated, soaking mud of moral filth that, if not opposed, will drag civilization to oblivion.
I have about an hour of video, audio, and picture media pertaining to the matters discussed in Chapters 27–31. There’s plenty of detail that, for the sake of brevity, I haven’t shared, but that makes my case even stronger.
MITRE’s illegal rescission of my job offer is exactly the sort of thing that happens before a far-right flashover. In the battle against the far right–– against fascists and Nazis, against infiltrators of trusted institutions–– we are at eleven fifty-nine and a sweeping second hand.
It wasn’t easy to tell that story. Thank you for taking the time to hear it.
The word count nears novella territory. Unfortunately, I could not have told that story in two thousand words. I doubt I could have told it in six thousand words. At brevity, it would have read as a paranoid rant. Extreme claims require justification and analysis. Consider post-2016 politics, from a pre-2015 vantage point. Some things are hard to believe unless every detail is backed up.
It is not with pleasure that I write on an existential threat to this great nation, and to civilization and its future. It is not with pleasure that I write on the probable infiltration by far-right militants of an organization that relies on the trust of the federal government.
We have a world to win; we also have one to lose. We do not have to live in a world where experiences like mine, relayed above in twenty thousand words of horror, are the norm.
For the love of God, fight.