Silicon Valley is in the midst of an ethical crisis. A series of scandals in recent years—from Theranos to Zenefits to Uber and the systemic problem of gender bias and sexual harassment—have slowly eroded public perception of the tech industry. The venture capital ecosystem, long shrouded in secrecy, is increasingly being exposed for what it really is: a coterie of mostly white men who wield indiscriminate power over who has a chance at pursuing the American dream.
As the roots of the industry’s blind idealism are being surfaced, critics often point to the outsize influence of Objectivism, the philosophy founded by author Ayn Rand, as a dangerous ideology that underpins the worst aspects of Silicon Valley culture. The philosophy, embodied in her books Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, has impacted so many leaders in tech—from Peter Thiel to Evan Spiegel to Travis Kalanick—that Rand has been described as “perhaps the most influential figure in the industry.” Objectivism is probably best known for characterizing selfishness as a virtue.
Yaron Brook, executive chairman of the Ayn Rand Institute, is on a worldwide tour to promote the philosophy (and dispel its myths) and recently took some time to catch up with Quartz and discuss Objectivism as it relates to the Valley’s ethical crisis.