The Architecture of Tomorrow: An Interview With Ben Horowitz
The influence of bits on the world of atoms, identifying people worth trusting, the origin of joy, the decoupling of the American Dream from the university, and more.
Ben Horowitz is the author of New York Times bestsellers The Hard Thing About Hard Things and What You Do Is Who You Are, co-host of Boss Talk and One on One With A and Z on clubhouse, cofounder and general partner at all-star venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, and former hip hop icon. Ben is without a doubt one of the best people I’ve ever had the pleasure of speaking to, and I chalk this up to his immeasurable generosity, patience, and killer wit. To keep up with Ben, follow him on twitter and check out his written work on the a16z website.
To a layman like myself technology seems to have slowed in its advance over the last few decades, with intellectual and financial resources that once turned out revolutions in agriculture, medicine, transportation, and energy now pooled mostly into computing. It seems as if attention shifted away from the “world of atoms” and into the “world of bits.” As the co-founder of a legendary VC firm, you are at the vanguard of innovation and stand as the most credible judge on this matter, so I’m wondering if there are still exciting things happening in the world of atoms. It’s a big question, but before the turn of the century futurism seemed to be a significant part of the American ethos—there was a sense that history was not done with us yet, that so much more than what we’ve known is in store. Is there still reason to feel this way now? Are there any investments a16z is making that make you especially optimistic about the future? Will we finally get flying cars?
I think the question understates the importance and centrality of "bits." The way I see it, the fundamental breakthroughs of Alan Turing, Claude Shannon, and others on information science in the late 1930s and early 1940s are not unlike the breakthrough of Newtonian Physics. Just as all great entrepreneurs took advantage of a new understanding of how the world worked during the industrial revolution (I'm sure there were also blacksmith entrepreneurs and the like, but they didn't matter when compared to Ford and Edison), entrepreneurs took advantage of a new understanding of how the world worked in the information revolution. Because Information Theory is central to how everything works, it actually has implications far beyond bits, which we are starting to see right now. In particular, powered by information technology, we've seen a radical breakthrough in vaccine development, we're close to autonomous automobiles, we're building better supersonic jets, and even flying cars are on their way. It took a lot of development of software infrastructure and techniques (such as AI) to get here, but we're now seeing "bits" transform "atoms" in a very real way. James Gleick wrote a really good book that explains why Information Science is so central (in case you need a primer).
That's not to say that regulation isn't the enemy of innovation — it definitely can be, but that hasn't been the only factor driving massive innovation on bits prior to breakthroughs on atoms. If you consider that (cost + risk) must be less than reward for innovation to go, then you can think of regulation being part of cost. Information technology drives the rest of cost and risk low enough to enable atom innovation.
Moderna and Pfizer developed the COVID-19 vaccine in less than 48 hours, but regulation forced them to spend a year in tests and trials. Nonetheless, the equation still worked (of course there were also government pre-purchases in that case).
Now, there are areas where the regulation is so corrupt and insidious (e.g. building regulation in big cities) that innovation has been completely shut down, but there is still a growing opportunity in much of the atom world.
This next question is inspired by the mention of regulation stifling progress. The goal of venture capital as far as I understand it is to disrupt existing infrastructure by backing more efficient and sometimes even unusual ideas, but Infrastructure today (as it always has been) is entrenched by the backing of significant corporate and even political interests—is it fair to say that VC stands in opposition to big business and even in some cases government? And how do some innovations circumvent such entrenched institutions? The combustion engine for example seems like something that will exist indefinitely into the future, with powerful gas and car industry lobbies wielding influence over legislators, financial institutions standardizing lines of credit for car purchases, and even wars started in the middle east to maintain control over oil reserves—but despite all of this, car manufacturers have begun to pivot to electric, with GM going as far as now investing more in autonomous and electric vehicles than in gasoline. Venture capital makes bets on changes like this, bets that expect to see the world spin in a new direction, but what forces make these seemingly impossible changes happen?
I think VC-backed companies often compete with entrenched big businesses and entrenched big businesses often partner with the press and the government to enable them to win when they might not otherwise compete effectively. Note that this tactic doesn't work all the time, because government officials still have to deal with the will of the people to some extent.
For example, there was recently a bill that passed in California to stop Uber and Lyft from operating called AB5. The stated rationale behind AB5 was that Lyft and Uber were exploiting drivers. Now, my nephew drives for Uber and Lyft and this couldn't be further from the truth. In reality, those companies invented a button that you can press and instantly get work — when you want it for as little or as long as you want — and they generally pay very well compared to the alternatives. It was maybe the most labor friendly invention of all times, but it was being attacked as labor unfriendly. It was easy to tell that drivers loved it, because it was the fastest-growing job category in America by far.
So how did California pass this bill and what happened next? Well, the Teamsters didn't like this magical app, because they viewed it as competition for their drivers. So they worked with the press and the California politicians to create a bill that would make Uber and Lyft unviable in California. The Teamsters and the government marketed it as "good for workers," but it was, of course, the opposite. Unfortunately for them they miscalculated because California is a direct democracy and the ride sharing companies put a measure on the ballot to reverse AB5. Uber and Lyft won by an overwhelming margin.
So, the lesson is that when you run into an entrenched competitor with deep pockets who has essentially achieved regulatory capture of the corrupt legislators then you must be prepared to mount a counter campaign straight to the voters. It can be super expensive, but is definitely required in such situations.
Systems of coordination and influence are interesting even if they do move in perverse directions as in your Teamsters example since their foundation is, I think, if not mutual trust between individuals, then communal trust in some ideal, both of which seem like miracles in an age of declining trust like our own. Which brings me to my next question: You’ve not only worked with your cofounder Marc for as long as I’ve been alive, you’ve been married to your wife Felicia for even longer than that—now 33 years. How can I develop trust in someone the same way, where not even the reversals of business or any of love’s pangs or even time’s tendency to dissolution can overcome what I have with someone else? And is being a master at business the same as being a master in relationships?
That’s a really interesting question. I’ll do my best to articulate how I think it works. It starts with communication. As I’ve written in my books, there’s a trust/communication equivalency that’s important to understand: if I trust you completely, you don’t even have to talk to me because I know that you are acting in my best interests at all times. If I trust you not at all, then I literally won’t hear anything that you say. This works in reverse as well and therefore high fidelity honest communication is the key to building trust. But that’s not enough.
In Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai it says: “The extent of someone’s courage or cowardice can not be measured in ordinary times. All is revealed when something happens.” Since courage is the foundation of all virtues, your integrity and trustworthiness can also be measured only when something happens. So, in order to develop a high trust relationship, you have to go through some shit. In doing so, you have to show yourself to be upstanding and worthy of trust. Of course, this is a two way street, but leadership matters. If you don’t have the courage to go first, then you’ll probably never build true trust.
Not everyone can follow you on a trust journey like this and you will be disappointed often, but the reward of having a friend or colleague or spouse who you can trust completely dwarfs the risk. I’d be happy to get burned 100 times if I can find one true friend.
It’s always tempting to go for the short-term selfish reward, but I’ve never met anyone who was truly happy with themselves or happy in life who didn’t value commitment and trust.
Different businesses are different, but for what I do personally -- help people develop into leaders and build great organizations -- mastering trust and relationships are essential. In fact, I think that it’s my biggest differentiator in the marketplace.
Having formed a heuristic for identifying the people we’re meant to take on our journey through life, and having shaped probably countless others into the ideal version of themselves while attaining the very heights of business, what comes to mind now is the question of joy, which is not something I think many have since it’s hard to find for ourselves a hierarchy of the most meaningful preoccupations, which I think you are uniquely positioned to do. So I want to ask: Where in life can I find the most meaning? In the third volume of my favorite book—In Search of Lost Time, the character M. de Charlus, attempting to take on a mentor-role for the benefit of the protagonist, describes something I consider when wondering where in life we derive the greatest joy, which is that all our efforts in industry or in art are substitutes for shaping the life of a person, that every figure hewn from stone, every bulb trimmed in our gardens, every tower built into heaven, is a proxy for the pleasure found in developing a human being. Is the greatest joy we can find helping other people along their way, watching them bloom and flourish as you do? Is it finding that rare miracle of a person whose interests align with our own and with whom every moment is shared and every crucible is overcome? Is it reading often (which Marc and yourself seem to do more than anyone else) or building a business and watching our ideas shape the world? Should I become a billionaire?
Wow, that's a deep and philosophical question. I may be too shallow to answer it :-), but I will give it a try.
In my experience there are really two things that lead to happiness and everything else is mostly noise. The two things are contribution and abundance.
Contribution is basically exactly as it sounds. If you can align your life with where you have the talent to make a large, meaningful, and real contribution to the world, your circle, or your family, then you can be very happy. As an aside, doing so often leads to making money because when you create great value like Elon Musk, you get a lot in return. Now, that doesn't mean you have to be a business person to be happy, because happiness comes from the knowledge and impact of the contribution rather than the reward. However, this doesn't quite work by itself, which brings me to the second point: abundance.
An easy way to think of abundance is that it's the anti-hater/anti-jealous mindset. If you believe there is plenty in the world for everyone and you are always happy to see people who contribute succeed, then you become part of "team contribution." You don't worry that someone is getting ahead of you at work or that someone made a lot of money or that someone is better looking than you, because you believe in abundance over scarcity and you can focus on maximizing your contribution. In fact, their joy can become your joy (then you have an abundance of joy :-)). The good news is that abundance is actually true. There is plenty in the world for everyone and once you see that, there are so many ways to contribute. I visited a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan a few years ago. On the way to the camp, there were a few refugee families not even in the camp but in some tents on the way. The area was completely barren. No plants, no trees, no grass . . . just rocks. So here's this extended family of about 20 living in this tent on rocks, because their farm was destroyed by the war and they had to flee to Jordan. They were all living in this tiny tent. If anyone should have had a scarcity mindset, it was them. But I experienced the opposite. They immediately offered me a cup of coffee and some rice pudding (as if they had enough to share) and told me the whole story of their journey. What struck me the most was that they were genuinely happy despite what they went through. They were less incensed by getting bombed out of their homes than people in the U.S. are if you accidentally interrupt them. I've seen this kind of happiness through abundance in many countries: Cambodia, Haiti, Uganda . . . Those refugees were happier than some billionaires I know. That's not to say that money doesn't help . . . it does, but without an abundance mindset, it's not enough.
If, on the other hand, you have a scarcity mindset, it's really hard to be happy no matter what you get or how rich you are or how good looking you are, because there's always somebody richer or better looking or whatever. You become part of team "hate." This is why you see so many deeply unhappy political activists. In theory, they should be making a massive contribution, but often they are just expressing hate for the other side. Hitler and Lenin are famous cases, but there are many, many more, because there's a fine line between advocating for one group and hating the other group. If you're doing the former like Martin Luther King Jr., you have an abundant view and will find joy in the work, but if you are doing the latter, you have a scarcity view. People with scarcity mindsets are always unhappy in my experience. Scarcity is not just in politics. You see it in business all the time. You see somebody stealing credit for someone else's work or being deeply jealous about someone else's promotion — these people are almost never happy. You even see it in the music industry or in sports. The quest to be the best turns into you not wanting anyone else to be the best. In these cases, even if you reach the pinnacle, there is no joy.
Going back to the beginning of our conversation, I actually first understood this from Nas. He has a line in the song, “Loco-Motive”:
"I know you think my life is good cause my diamond piece
But my life been good since I started finding peace"
That explains it quite clearly. Ironically, people got mad at Nas, because the album was called Life Is Good. They complained that he forgot about people in the struggle. Obviously, they completely missed the point due to their scarcity mindset.
Even though it may seem intuitive, the idea of value-added being immediately tied not only to joy but material abundance too I think is one the most significant things related to wealth creation I’ve ever heard and may not be intuitive at all, and Amazon’s 1997 letter to shareholders comes to mind—Bezos showed sincere, burning passion for creating consumer value and it seems that he seized the rank of richest man for precisely this reason, because at bottom he contributed toward improving the lives of others more than anyone else. I don’t think there’s anything more beautiful than the way you put it, and I deeply appreciate that the architecture of the world stands in this way, where wealth and improving the lives of others are tied together (which I think runs counter to an increasingly popular and scarcity-driven idea that almost all wealth is ill-gotten). On the other side of contribution, scarcity, since talent follows a Pareto distribution like so much else, and since not everyone can contribute the same amount or in the same ways because of this, I wonder if, for the majority of people, scarcity boils down to fixation on things we can’t do and failure to see the smaller things we can, and if this failure follows from a feeling of scarcity of time. So many children unborn, books unread and unwritten, canvases unpainted, songs that haven’t been sung, relationships left unformed and unrepaired and unattended, and entrepreneurial ideas left without a reality to inhabit, all because we feel there isn’t enough time, and I feel this way often. But Darwin changed the world by working on his theory of evolution only four hours a day, and you’ve done and learned so much more than most people ever will in their lifetimes all while having three children! How can I get past the feeling that there isn’t enough time?
You know, I haven't asked you how old you are, but I can tell by that question that you must be pretty young :-). I used to have that feeling when I was probably your age, but over the years I learned that it was all wrong. Life is short, but life is long, too. More importantly, it turns out that there are no wasted genuine attempts to make a contribution — even if you overestimate your own talents and abilities in that particular area or lose long-term interest — because you learn so much with every attempt.
As an example, the first thing that I really wanted to be in life was a rapper (which you can read about here). My desire was driven more by my love of the art form and the amazing work of the artists than my own ability to contribute. Nonetheless, my contribution was still valuable in a very small circle :-). More importantly, my learnings from that journey have paid off at least a thousand fold:
My ability to construct a narrative (which I refined as a rapper) has been a colossal advantage throughout my career, culminating with two best-selling books, but more importantly, The Hard Thing About Hard Things is basically the Illmatic of startup books.
Being able to understand and fund startups like United Masters (see here).
Creating the Cultural Leadership Fund, which has been a massive competitive advantage for the firm, most recently with our Clubhouse investment and contribution to its growth
On a personal level, I eventually got to meet and become friends with some of my heroes — most importantly, Nas from whom I have learned so much.
Now, it was a good thing that I ended my rap career early, because I wasn't good enough to make a great contribution. But that doesn't mean that it was a waste of time. It was one of the best uses of time in my life. You see breadth matters as much as depth when striving for greatness. Understanding areas that you may never master contributes amazingly to your eventual destiny.
So, don't worry about missing out. Just pick an area where you are excited to contribute and give it your all. That's where your next opportunity will come from and ultimately your biggest opportunity. The enemy of greatness is not getting started :-).
What the mention of rap brings to mind and what initially made me curious about your thinking is that you, without a doubt, love black culture and black people more than anyone I’ve ever seen in my life. I have never seen anything like it and I doubt anyone anywhere has. The thought I had when I first encountered you online was one that felt impossible: Is the cofounder of Andreessen Horowitz just like me? A VC who likes Nas? I assume you are the first instance of those two things going together, you have to be, and I’m trying to figure this all out. Are you the embodiment of disruption? Hip hop is a punchy, pragmatic, bootstrapped reality, so doesn’t it mean that venture capital has a hip hop ethos if Ben Horowitz gravitated toward it? (All of this sets the groundwork for my next question about the much punchier, much more bootstrapped reality of the Black Panthers, which influenced your early life if I understand correctly).
I think entrepreneurs have a hip hop ethos for sure, because so much of hip hop is about starting and growing a business. Plus in the early days, all those guys were music entrepreneurs and often drug entrepreneurs so they rapped about entrepreneur life. It's a little less prevalent in today's hip hop, but it's definitely still there. So, VC done right understands the entrepreneurial ethos and, therefore, the hip hop ethos.
I did grow up with the Black Panthers (at least the Oakland chapter). I regularly attended services at their church Son of Man Temple and even went to George Jackson's funeral. Many of the members came over to my house and we'd play caroms and what not, so they definitely had an outsized cultural influence on me. I was too young to understand the politics at the time, but I have heard many, many first hand stories over the years and let's just say the actual story hasn't been told.
The Panthers were part of growing up in black culture, but my best friend was black, almost all the kids on my football team were black, and so on. For better or worse, I kind of grew up in the black community and black culture, so I never saw it as separate from me. People find it weird that I am an expert at cooking collard greens or that I drink yac or listen to rap music, but it's all very normal for me.
I have many thoughts on the culture, its great strengths and weaknesses, but that's a better conversation for you and me to have with some yac :-).
When I imagine what VCs do in a day and what they eat, I picture wagyu steak strapped to a rocket and sent from Japan to Palo Alto, and then prepared on freshly formed volcanic rocks from Hawaii’s Kilauea by none other than Gordon Ramsay. But you’re telling me Ben Horowitz can cook collard greens and eats what I do? (And I will definitely take you up on that yac offer).
Ha! That's an amazing description of VCs. Your literary skills are next-level.
High praise from a best-selling author!
The next question I have for you is: You went to Columbia and UCLA and it seems like the bulk of the more established successes in Silicon Valley have backgrounds in one prestigious institution or another, but now, with social platforms conferring access to networks normally confined to campuses, with learning resources being mostly free and research data becoming largely open access, and with institutions like venture capital being willing to back founders whether or not they have degrees, technology has made it possible to shorten the traditionally long and circuitous path to status and salaried positions. Is college still necessary for achieving the American Dream? Austen Allred’s Lambda School is another example of the 4-year university model being phased out; by asking for student tuition only after a job has been secured, he’s created a convincing solution to a problem that sees millions of youths giving up their lives to debt, and I wonder if we will see new status-ladders like his own replace college entirely in the near future. Is the American Dream being decoupled from the university?
That's a great question. I am so old that I went to school before the modern Internet existed, so universities were the place to get the knowledge. As importantly to employers, going to a prestigious school meant that you had a high score on the SAT or ACT, which, while flawed, was and is the only quantified test of intelligence that employers could easily use.
Fast forward to today and all of the knowledge is available free on the Internet and there is far more efficient instruction (both time- and money-wise) from places like Lambda School. Recently, most schools are dropping SATs and ACTs, so the universities no longer are proxies for intelligence tests. As a result, the value of going to a prestigious school is really starting to wane while the cost is skyrocketing.
If kids are reading this, depending on who you are, college is probably still worthwhile right now, but 5 years from now, I expect things will be quite different. Peter Thiel has run a really interesting experiment with his Thiel Fellows program whose graduates (including Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin) have done far better than university proponents expected or predicted.
Now, if you are a true scholar and want to be on the leading edge of physics or machine learning or something like that, many of the people to learn from are at places like Stanford and MIT, so that still may make sense. But if you want to get a job or start a company, it's hard to imagine the current university model remaining competitive.
This is a broader, higher-level question following on the trail of the future of the American Dream and moving into the idea of America’s future as a world leader in business and technology. Network-effects justified pooling talent into places like Silicon Valley and Wall Street for decades until Covid forced a change in the way business is conducted, and now, through the miracle of broadband internet and Zoom, business can be conducted from anywhere. Silicon Valley now doesn’t have to be in Palo Alto or even the United States, and businesses can shop for new systems of governance to operate under the way most people shop for clothes (and with US politics becoming increasingly bizarre other nations may seem like more attractive prospects for investments and enterprise). I imagine the future is one where the very idea of governance is restructured by technology, and if some nation like China or Germany doesn’t become the new hub of power because of the same movements toward decentralization, the city-state model of governance may see a robust comeback. Can the future be one dominated by the US (or any nation at all) when talent and power have become decentralized?
I don't think that I know the answer to that, but I know some more questions :-). Balaji Srinivasan has many theories on where this goes (all very interesting), so he's probably the best person to ask. There's no question that employees are far more mobile than pre-COVID and, therefore, so are companies. If wealth and talent become less geographically concentrated, I believe that will be a great outcome for humanity. In terms of if and when, I think there are many things to consider:
Laws and Money: Countries vary greatly in terms of difficulty of doing business. For example, it's amazingly difficult/impossible to make a venture capital investment in a South African company if you are a foreign entity. That kind of law will tend to curb business activity. Similarly, if the local currency is hyper-inflationary, then the parent country tends to make and enforce laws against other kinds of money, which make business not so viable.
Culture: Cultures in different geographies vary greatly. I have a friend who is an European investor who advised me never to invest in wine-drinking countries and only invest in beer-drinking countries due to cultural issues. There's an excellent book that describes the anthropological differences between western cultures in general and the rest of the world (The WEIRDest People in the World). When you understand those, you realize that cultures create dramatic differences in the interpretation of things like contract law, commitments, telling the truth, valuing equity, etc. Balaji has a theory that cloud-based cultures are forming and superseding geographic cultures. That may be true, but it hasn't happened comprehensively yet. Finally, there's an issue of the local culture accepting foreigners. There's a saying that anybody can be an American, meaning that anyone can be a first-class citizen here, but not anybody can be French or Chinese or German. I think there is truth to that, which brings me to . . .
Talent: Ultimately, the location where the most talented, smartest people live will matter if you are building a business that needs great talent. Historically, because America has welcomed foreign talent, that's been our edge. I think half the companies in Silicon Valley are founded by immigrants. Immigrants by definition are hungry and motivated, and they are usually really fucking smart, too.
So, if you go far enough into the future, I can imagine geography not mattering at all and companies forming and operating entirely in the cloud. If that happens, then you'd just locate your company in the optimal legal and tax realm. I think we're a ways off from that now and the above issues will dictate how that unfolds.
Speaking of geography, what's your current location? Drinking yac virtually is not nearly as good . . .
I live in LA! I’ll message you on twitter so we can work out the details to have a drink in person.
But going higher-level still, I want to move from the question of the future of human organization and into something more fundamental: the future of the species. Environmental and social crises inspire many to set their sights off-world, and I hear often that if we don’t become the first species to pass through the Great Filter and achieve multi-planetary status, we and all our hopes and our dreams will perish. But since we didn’t evolve for life on hostile non-Earth environments or long-term space flight, and since we couldn’t withstand exposure to either without significant damage to the brain and body, I can’t help but feel that online fervor around colonizing space is probably part of some kind of laundering scheme. Are non-commercial space explorations and developments worth investing in?
I think there are a couple of parts to the space thing. The easier part to understand is both Musk and Bezos really like space and want to fund space stuff and are pretty sure that good things will come out of it (if not the stated goal).
The trickier thing is the status/attention getting/expression-of-dominance reason. I'd put the humanity saving Mars colony, The Simulation, and Sentient AI all in this category to some extent. One way to think about it is like fat gold chains or enormous rims were — and to some extent still are — in hip hop culture. In the early days, they weren't so much a fashion idea as an idea that said: "I am at the leading edge of the culture and can do things that you consider absurd that will garner me attention and enable me to dictate trends in thinking about fashion." These things are that for nerds. The Mars one is at the highest level, so it's only accessible to genius nerd decabillionaires, which makes it even better. It's the equivalent to if Jean Michel Basquiat was alive in the 90s, Jay-Z commissioning Basquiat to paint a mural on Jay-Z's Bugatti. It would not make sense as a practical idea, but it would establish Jay's total dominance as the dictator of boss-level hip hop culture and would have the happy side effect of making Basquiat more popular. Mars colonies are like that, I think. Good will come out of them, but not necessarily a redundant habitat for humanity. But the other motivation is to totally dominate nerd culture and the public nerd dialogue.
Are there any promising technologies that have species-scale consequences that are more than just hype? We have seemingly open-ended possibilities in longevity drug development to extend human life, gene editing to maximize human fitness and reduce inequality, AI to solve the unsolved problems in physics, crypto to revolutionize personal finance, drone and information warfare to revolutionize the battlefield and limit cost to human life, and more, but It seems like every species-maximizing idea that sounds good in theory turns out to have some deadly pitfall in practice since (like in the case of gene editing) we are trying to modify a system more intelligent than we are!
Oh, no question there are many very real technological opportunities and threats. We still don't know the origin of COVID-19, but it's pretty clear that pandemics could be a nasty side effect of CRISPR and other biological techniques. At the same time, the results of the mRNA vaccines have been so spectacular that they will radically improve our health. Already, there's an mRNA-based HIV vaccine that's showing amazing results in clinical trials. We're seeing early attempts to vaccinate against cancer using a similar technology. We'll also have really effective vaccines for the flu, the common cold and damned near everything. We should be able to fix a gigantic set of rare genetic diseases using CRISPR, so the promise is there as well.
On the question of whether the benefits outweigh the risks, I go back to something the great Andy Grove said about the microprocessor. A reporter asked whether it was good or bad and Andy said: "That's the wrong question. That's like asking whether or not steel is good or bad. It just is. The right question is 'how do we make it good.'"
It has been a life-changing conversation for me and I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to anyone with a more palpable air of honesty and understanding, and it sincerely has been a pleasure.
My last question for you is: If congress passed legislation issuing a nationwide ban on giving advice, with violators incurring large fines or prison time, what advice would be worth ignoring this law for?
There are two dominant narratives in human literature: Good vs. Evil and Humans Against the Gods. Most people in life gravitate towards Good vs. Evil. They constantly try to identify the evil bad people. Who are they? Republicans? Antifa? Tech Bros? Politicians? Teachers Unions? Democrats? Police? White Supremacists? Woke Supremacists? Muslims? Jews? In reality, Humans Against the Gods is a much more accurate narrative. The Gods are "the system." The systems that we've all created — the school system, the prison system, the free market system, the system of democracy. The worse the system, the worse the people in it no doubt, but you can't actually fix the people (although this is often attempted, sometimes via genocide), you have to fix the system. Often systems start out great then age and become horribly corrupt, technologically antiquated or otherwise broken. In my experience, the most evil thing in the world is a large system with extreme power and that power concentrated into the hands of a few individuals. This is why Communism seems good and when implemented is always super fucking evil. It's sold as a distribution of power, but it's really a massive concentration of power into the hands of a few people in the government . . . all power and countervailing forces are removed from the private sector and concentrated into the public sector and, of course, the first thing removed from the public sector is Democracy. Why? Because as the person in charge, you can. There's nobody to stop you. Mao, Pol Pot, Stalin, Ceausescu . . . were they all crazy genocidal maniacs or were they at the top of a system that was guaranteed to produce evil? I am sure it's the latter. People make arguments that the systems were incorrectly implemented, but that's the test of a system — it has to be robust in the face of implementation snafus and bad people. Otherwise, it's a very bad system.
My advice that I'd go to jail for (provided anyone would listen to me) is "let's focus our energies on fixing the old corrupt systems rather than tilting at the windmills of eliminating the bad people." Efforts to fix bad people always get lots of supporters, but never seem to get any actual positive results.