Why I Wrote “Hacking Capitalism”
In 2020 I was living in Silicon Valley and had a fairly close call with survival. The pandemic hit me extremely hard, and exposed a lot of things in my life. The isolation exposed my toxic relationship with my career, or at least the fact that I had some fairly nasty prioritization problems.
I was a workaholic — I probably still am.
I had been pursuing a career in tech for all the wrong reasons. I found myself needing to process a lot of what had happened in my career, and my work ultimately ended up in the form of a book, called “Hacking Capitalism”.
This blog isn’t a shitty marketing gimmick to get you to by my book — I actually have stuff to say here.
Looking back I am pretty shocked at what I discovered with the entire thing.
So I use this word often in the book, and it’s plastered all over the cover. The past few years of my life I have been obsessed with this concept. I deliberately use this word to draw attention to what I consider the absurdity of this entire situation. Honestly I picked a repulsive word, because I am describing a repulsive construct.
One of my big takeaways of my decade or so long career in tech is that exploitation is classy if you’re rich but trashy if you’re poor. The elite do it and openly brag about it all the time, while somebody like myself drawing attention to it comes off egregious.
I absolutely want to draw attention to this.
I think about exploitation every day. Every time I drive down the street and see consumerism, plastic, and parking lots blanketing the nation, I can’t help but think that even the land itself has been exploited. I think about it every time I go to the doctor and have to cough up a “co-pay” for my “insurance”. I think about it every time I see a mountain renamed after a white male war criminal — and so on.
Every time I go to work I am forced to remind myself that even as an extremely privileged and wealthy tech employee, there is always a bigger fish — that bigger fish exists because its feeding on the smaller fish.
The point is I want to draw attention to this pattern. It took a fairly traumatic event for me to begin seeing it, and now it’s everywhere for me. Everywhere I look, I see evidence of a broader system exploiting a smaller system in some unfair way.
Why Was I So Obsessed With Exploitation?
To put it simply, because it hurt me and I wasn’t prepared at all for it.
It has taken a year of writing a book, publishing the stupid fucking thing, and a lot of reflection for me to come to this conclusion. I have been through 3 successful startup exits, and each time I learned a little bit more about why everyone around me, and their relationship with the economy. Honestly most of the time I was just happy to have a job — I kind of missed the entire “self-interest” memo.
As a transgender person who spent my early 20’s unhoused on the streets of the Midwest I didn’t have access to education or basic career or economic expectation setting.
To be very honest about the situation — I grew into adulthood with a sense of right and wrong that I learned on the streets. I lived in communal environments, and traveled in groups with other poor eccentrics until I stumbled upon a career in tech. The groups I traveled with were collaborative in nature, and we looked out for each other. Our sense of morals was all that guided us through the world, as the economy, the law, the healthcare system, and the police were actively aggressive towards us. In other words the economy seemed to continue to land on the “wrong” side of things.
My entire experience had been based upon the established systems of today being the primary source of evil in my life. The only sense of pride I found, was in my ability to exist as what I considered — a “good person”. I didn’t really understand that the established systems — were actually “opt in” for some folks. It was always a “necessary evil” for me. I didn’t understand that society, and our economy was set up deliberately around competition and exploitation.
Tech was a vehicle to a paycheck and to healthcare for me. Which meant tech was a vehicle to getting off the streets and going through a gender transition. Something I wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise.
Fast forward 10 years, and I have made something of myself and holy shit I wasn’t ready for it.
The more I existed in tech, the more I began to see that exploitation was often a consequence of ruthless self-interest. I saw it everywhere. I still do. It’s something I think about often.
We hear investors and entrepreneurs talk about self-interest, and pursuing the best interests of a corporation. I don’t think everyone understands that exploitation (in my opinion) is an inevitable consequence of the “best interest” paradigm. I really think that the more ruthless we become with pursuing self-interest, the more likely we are to exploit others in the process.
I certainly didn’t understand this when my tech journey began.
The thing that really fucked me up, is that the more I began to meet people in the industry who came from a privileged background with access to education (MIT, Harvard, etc). The more I realized they actually knew this and didn’t find anything wrong with it. They were quite literally educated in ways to do it.
I think my trauma has pushed me to a hyper-vigilant awareness of the basic system that starts with corporate interests and ends with the exploitation of those that depend on it. I see it everywhere, and I keep drawing attention to it, and nobody else seems to care.
The Moment Everything Stopped.
In 2020 when I started writing the book there was a moment when the economy finally stopped attacking me.
I was able to pause, and reflect. In a very serendipitous way — I was able to breathe after not being able to for a long time.
I realize now that this ability to exist in the economy without a persistent state of anxiety is a privilege. Even more alarming, I realized that many of my peers and colleagues were born into this privilege and have never experienced life outside of it.
I think the trauma of the situation, the pandemic, my extreme isolation and loneliness came out and punched me right in the face.
I remember thinking to myself how unprepared I was for everything, and how obvious the state of the system was now that I was able to come up for air and reflect on it.
I wanted to write my thoughts down, and the more I wrote them down the more I realized they were pretty fucking repulsive — so I guess I wrote a realistic and fairly unattractive book just because I needed to get it out.
I wanted the book to be jarring enough to attract people like the 20-year-old version of myself. I think if I would have read this book about a decade ago, I might have managed my life a lot differently.
I wanted to market to that persona. The book, the title, the language — all reflects this. What would attract an unhoused hacker and give them some basic expectation setting for a lifetime in tech while focusing on lifting up those around them? How do we lift up marginalized people by setting the stage with everything that they can’t learn on the streets? What is the “street guide” to upper middle class?
I didn’t really have access to education, or a family to do the basic expectation setting with me. So I kind of learned a lot of these lessons the hard way. I hope my book makes it so others don’t have to go through what I went through.
My philosophy of “do the right thing” worked wonderfully on the street but it completely fucked me over in my career. I have a lot of regrets here.
The Healing Process.
So I finally finished the book, and got all of my thoughts out. I provided supporting arguments, and scholarly sources for a lot of my thesis topics. I know that Twitter and the toxic bro community is going to expect me to shove all of my points down their throats with exemplary supporting arguments because of my gender. So — here they are — buy my book and read the countless studies about how it literally is fucking harder for marginalized people — and how that can be linked to the same type of thinking that is making me write all this down in the first place.
So, I have gone back and read the book a few times. As predicted, I hate it. I hate the fact that I had to actually write this.
The book takes a very cutthroat approach to explaining the system. I think in hindsight I have demonized the entire economy because it has hurt me.
However, the economy has also helped me. I will actually be able to retire, and I published a 2nd book. I have traveled the world, and have a large house filled with all kinds of meaningless junk. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the economy.
I think I needed to process a lot of the problems with Capitalism in order to move foreword with my life. I needed to draw attention to the fact that ruthless competition can be dangerous — while also learning to embrace the fact that it can empower people as well.
I think what I have really learned is that it’s not all bad. It’s just wielded bad. There a lot of really shitty people who do not hold this responsibility well. There are a lot of good people who will never have access to wield this responsibility in the first place. It’s an imperfect system.
I wanted to write and publish this book in the hopes of shifting the mindshare in the industry. I am hoping to make an industry wide impact in drawing attention to the fact that our relationship with the economy — and sustainability — is important. The tech industries relationship with the economy is a huge fucking responsibility. It’s all of our responsibility to manage this responsibility well.
The book talks about ethics, and I am convinced that standardizing on the U.S. definition of ethics is about the most unethical thing a company can do. I want to change that. I have an entire chapter dedicated to talking about the energy consumption of Bitcoin and how social media can be linked to deaths.
Just because something is profitable, doesn’t make it ethical.
Doing More With Money
One of the things that I have gone full circle on is the concept of leveraging an organization for resources in order to do great things.
So where does exploitation start and stop? If I leverage an organization for career growth who is exploiting who in this scenario? Which one is “right”?
One of the things I think about is the difference between influence and manipulation. Influence doesn’t come at the expense of someone, whereas manipulation does. I look at exploitation as the “manipulation” in the example.
So what is the “influence” in this analogy?
What is the word for doing something great with money, when it doesn’t come at the expense of others? Is this concept even possible? Or is everything zero-sum at the end of the day?
I think my trauma is starting to heal, and I think one of the things I am realizing is that there is a silver lining in all of this.
Maybe there is a way to exist in this world, without endangering those that depend on the system? Maybe there is a way to contribute to the economy, without also becoming a risk to others? Maybe there is a way to do good things according to my “street” definition of good, while also leveraging a competitive economy for the better?
I think what I am starting to feel is called “hope”.
I think I am feeling it — because I was able to finally process the ruthlessness of the economy. I was able to compartmentalize my relationship with the economy — fucking finally.
So that is why I wrote the book “Hacking Capitalism”.
It’s all laid out in logical order, exactly as an autistic brain would want to consume it. Linearly. With supporting evidence, definitions, and working examples. A fucking textbook of of the relationship of tech and the economy for anyone who didn’t go to MIT or graduate from Berkeley.