Ethics In Tech & Lack Thereof

Sleeping Under The Cell Tower

By Vahid Razavi

A Story to Tell

This is the story of how injustices perpetrated against me by technology companies quite literally drove me to madness. But it’s also the story of something much bigger than just me. The crimes, misdeeds, and other unethical behavior that tech companies commit at the individual level are the same crimes they perpetrate on a global scale. If we are to prevent the latter, each of us must confront the former when we encounter them. Some people, even some close friends, have attempted to dissuade me from telling this story. They rightfully worry about the possible repercussions I might suffer as a result of publishing this book. I say rightfully because at the end of the day I’ve still got to eat, I’ve still got bills to pay. I live in San Francisco which is just about the most expensive slice of paradise on the continent! But I’ve decided to publish my story and let the chips fall where they may. I’ve been terminated, medicated, discriminated, litigated; I’ve lost jobs, I’ve lost my health, I’ve lost blood and treasure, I’ve even lost my damned mind — what the hell else have I got to lose?

After deciding to tell my story the next matter I had to settle was when — as in what year — to begin this book. Yes, it’s my personal story but as I said, it’s also a story that’s much bigger than me. I found myself thinking more and more of the early 1990s, those heady days when newfound freedom was in the air as the Iron Curtain crumbled and a sense of the inevitable and permanent triumph of Western liberal democracy prevailed. Francis Fukuyama was hailing “the end of history” while the history of what would soon be recognized as one of the all-time most important inventions — the Internet — was mostly yet to come. In the self-congratulatory Western echo chamber caution was thrown to the wind as grand plans were hatched by those insatiable plutocrats, who the late, great George Carlin called “the owners of the country,” to penetrate and dominate global markets.

In the 1930s there was a highly-decorated United States Marine Corps general, Smedley Butler, who got “woke” and realized that war is a racket in which corporations and the super-rich grow richer off the sacrifice of the poor and working class. Butler wrote and delivered a speech he called “War Is A Racket,” a powerful message in the spirit of Mark Twain’s staunchly anti-imperialist missives during the Spanish American War a generation earlier. Butler wrote that “the flag follows the dollar and the soldiers follow the flag.”

In the early 1990s, as the Soviet Union and its empire collapsed, and as Germany reunified and Yugoslavia literally balkanized, multinational corporations descended like buzzards on a carcass with imperial troops (both in the form of NATO expansionism and all-out war waged against Yugoslavia) close behind.

Just as conservative politicians in the southern United States had to start devising a new language of subtle dog whistles in the 1960s once overt racist appeals were no longer socially acceptable, so too was a new lexicon required for the great neoliberal project of the 1990s. So we got “humanitarian interventions,” “structural adjustments” and all the other old dirty tricks couched in the new language of capitalism. And shining ever-brighter in the firmament of global capitalism were technology companies that, as you’ll soon see, were providing so much more than just computers and software.

I was taking my first tentative, naive steps into the tech industry in the 1990s. It was then, as it is still too much today, an industry dominated by white males. People of color were relative rarities, women even more so. In those days a woman was likelier to encounter sexism than a path to the top in Silicon Valley. Then there was me, still probably seeming more Iranian than American in the eyes of many, trying to break into the business. Yet somehow — no, not “somehow,” it was hard work, determination, luck, and more hard work — I “made it” in the industry. At one point I raised over $25 million in capital for a startup. Then I decided to launch my own startup. It was a decision that would take me halfway around the world and on an incredible adventure that would change me in ways I never could have imagined.

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