Sex and Drugs and Guns and Code

Most of the young programmers I know have only ever been exposed to one worldview: the toxic strain of neoliberal capitalism favored by venture capitalists and their gushing fans in the tech media. As inequality widens, as white nationalism comes roaring back on stage, as we do everything in our power to make climate change worse, and as companies like Twitter, Facebook, and Shopify tie themselves in ever-more-contorted knots to avoid taking responsibility for their actions, most programmers don’t have the intellectual tools needed to understand what’s gone wrong and how we might fix it. Why do gender and racial discrimination persist despite their economic inefficiency? Why do “flat” organizations make power imbalances worse rather than better? How does regulatory capture work? Why do Americans keep shooting one another? And why was Boris Johnson?

Lots of books give cogent answers to these questions that draw on alternatives to the Freakonomics view of the world. But asking a programmer who has never done a civics course to read nine thousand pages about something they’re not yet sure is real is functionally equivalent to telling them to piss off. We need something that tells a story that coders will feel smarter for having heard. We need what Sarah Kendzior, Zeynep Tufekci, and N.K. Jemisin would write if they had six months and some great music to listen to. Call it Sex and Drugs and Guns and Code: What Everyone in Tech Needs to Know About Politics, Economics, Justice, and Power, get Wired to tell everyone it’s the new new thing, and you just might change the world.

See also:

But more importantly, please read:

  1. Tressie McMillan Cottom: Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy. Describes how a large part of the educational sector in the US exists to translate government grants into personal debt for the poor and private profit for the rich.

  2. Sarah Kendzior: The View From Flyover Country. Essential reading about the rise of authoritarian kleptocracy in the United States.

  3. Andro Linklater: Owning the Earth. The idea that individuals can own land is a lot younger than most people realize, and its emergence holds a lot of lessons for today’s debates over intellectual property.

  4. Leigh Phillips and Michal Rozworski: The People’s Republic of Walmart. Most of the world’s economic activity occurs within large companies like Walmart and Amazon. They all use central planning: why doesn’t the economy as a whole, and can we make the efficiencies of planning democratically accountable?

  5. John Restakis: Humanizing the Economy. A history of the co-operative movement and a blueprint for its future.

  6. James C. Scott: Seeing Like a State. Explains why large organizations always prefer uniformity over productivity, and the price people pay for this.

  7. Jim Stanford: Economics for Everyone. A useful antidote to the abstract, unquestioning way that neoliberal economics is usually presented.

  8. Zeynep Tufekci: Twitter and Tear Gas. A nuanced look at how social media is and isn’t changing politics and protest.

  9. Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett: The Spirit Level. An evidence-based exploration of how and why greater equality is better for everyone.