Hey Rosebud! Yet More Lobbying By the Beautiful People: We’re Rich, Therefore We Win

It’s really important that we protect the rights of really good looking people in this society,”

Attorney Andrew Bridges of Fenwick & West (frequently representing Google) quoted at Beautiful Person Derek Khanna’s SXSW “Fashion Week” Panel

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The Beautiful People are finding more ways to use their money to get their way–and guess what?  There are lots of not nearly so beautiful people in Washington willing to help them do just that.  After they take the money.

The latest debacle is Mr. Mark Zuckerberg’s Sally Fields moment (you really, really like me)-he is founding yet another special interest lobbying group for the very special interests of Silicon Valley’s 1% of the 1%, this time on the issue of “immigration reform”–which I would just bet has a lot more to do with the highly educated end of the food chain in Silicon Valley rather than the other end of the food chain in Tijuana or even through the Altamont Pass to the San Joaquin Valley.  Although the San Joaquin Valley is barely an hour from The Valley, it may as well be on the dark side of the Moon.

According to Politico:

Even [Mr. Zuckerberg] the man who transformed social media can get into a messaging mess.

The immigration reform group [called “Human Capital”] that will be Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s entry into politics was supposed to launch as early as next week with a lot of fanfare, support and money — but the person leading the effort is already hitting unlike on its launch plan.

Now why would that be?  If you ever sat in a drafting session for a dot bomb IPO and listened to the bankers shape a company’s business model to fit into what they can get past the SEC (as opposed to what the company actually does), you won’t be surprised at the brew of fiction and fact in the Human Capital business plan.

What’s in a Name?

First of all, what’s up with that name?  “Human Capital”?  As compared to what?  Machine Capital? Makes humans sound almost like–a product.

Given that these wanna-be influencers come from the home of Singularity University, the full scope of their choice of the brand “Human Capital” is even more bizarre than usual.  The singularity is that moment when humans and machines become one through a process of superintelligence (or “artificial intelligence”).  Ray Kurtzweil, director of engineering at Google, wrote “I set the date for the Singularity—representing a profound and disruptive transformation in human capability—as 2045.” (The Singularity is Near, p. 135). Hello there, Bishop Ussher.

Believe it or not, the inevitability of the singularity is accepted as received wisdom by these philosophical descendants of Werner Erhard including many senior executives at Google and other hive minders (as was well documented by Jaron Lanier in his wonderful book, “You Are Not A Gadget.”)

Or more accurately, the singularity may involve only some–but not all–humans.  Just the Beautiful People.  Kind of like if the Book of Revelation was set in a head shop.  Gives a whole new meaning to “friends”, don’t it?

I know this sounds bonkers, but trust me–this singularity thing is as real to these people as Armageddon.

Hence the need for “Human Capital” with its commoditizing dog whistle.  After the singularity…who knows what it means.

And Ye Shall Know Them By the Trail of Money

But leave aside the name that these kings of social media selected for themselves (later disavowed, of course).  The “Human Capital” business plan has a whole other set of problems.  (And remember, the business plan itself hasn’t been released that I know of.  This story is based on leaks coming from Politico.  I wonder what else is in there.)

The [Human Capital] prospectus [or “business plan”], obtained Thursday by POLITICO, states that Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Silicon Valley investor Marc Andreessen are founding members of a group named “Human Capital” and details how the technology executives would use their companies to “control the avenues of distribution” for a political message in support of their efforts.

Under a section called “our tactical assets,” the prospectus lists three reasons why “people in tech” can be organized into “one of the most powerful political forces.”

“1: We control massive distribution channels, both as companies and individuals. We saw the tip of the iceberg with SOPA/PIPA.

“2: “Our voice carries a lot of weight because we are broadly popular with Americans. [“You really, really like me…“]

“3. We have individuals with a lot of money. If deployed properly this can have huge influence in the current campaign finance environment.”

Breathtaking in its naiveté, I know, but yet it is true.

Imagine for a moment–just a moment–that instead of Bill Gates and Marc Andreessen, the names were David Geffen and Haim Saban.  And the executives who were going to use their companies to proselytize were Sumner Redstone or Henry Weinstein?  Would the story have been written differently?

Or what if it were Chris Hayes proposing to use his air time in his role at MSNBC to promote the views of his mentor, Lawrence Lessig?  No wait…he actually does do that.  So who else?

Or Rupert Murdoch and the Koch Brothers?  Why leave them out?

Not that there’s anything wrong with the citizens of Xanadu-by-the-Bay spending money to influence political outcomes.  And can’t you imagine Andrew Sorkin making Citizen Zuckerberg after the inevitable fall from grace?

All of this is now disavowed, of course.  The author of the Human Capital “business plan” has now disavowed many of his statements–turns out some of them are simply not true (such as Gates and Andreesson’s involvement), a fact that no one who has dealt with the rare air of the Valley elite will be surprised by at all.  Fiction has a way of becoming fact, you know, if you just wish very hard.  Wishing is very disruptive.  As quoted in Politico:

“Several prominent leaders in the tech community, operating solely as individuals, continue to work on forming an issues advocacy organization that would seek to promote issues such as comprehensive immigration reform and education reform,” [the author] said. “However, some of the information contained in this email is outdated and not representative of the kind of work this organization will perform. Moreover, I regret some of the language in the email was poorly-chosen and could give a misimpression of the views and aspirations of this organization and those associated with it.”

A remarkably lawyerly nondenial denial.  But–the line I found most interesting bears repeating:

We control massive distribution channels, both as companies and individuals. We saw the tip of the iceberg with SOPA/PIPA.

That may end up being a very revealing statement.

But is all of this angst about human capital without the humanity all that shocking?

After all, Facebook’s real product–is you.

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