In his concise and incisive book What Tech Calls Thinking, Adrian Daub examines and punctures a range of tech proclamations and tropes that many of us have just gotten used to hearing in recent decades.
That may sound sober, but it was an engaging read. Here’s Daub — a Stanford professor who’s primarily focused on the humanities — on Ayn Rand (whom he writes about in the context of Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, and Pixar):
In other words, there is a weird (and acknowledged) tendency here to treat an effort like architecture, which by definition requires a group and—dare I say it—collectives, as though it were the art that an individual makes in the solitude of a studio or a favorite writing nook. This is what historians of ideas call a ‘genius aesthetic’: it describes our tendency to think that the meaning of a work of art comes out of the specific mind of its creator, not out of the preexisting rules that creator worked within nor the broader spirit of the society and time. When you’re talking about a novel, that makes a certain amount of sense. But Rand extended this sense of individual brilliance to some of humanity’s most communal undertakings. Have you ever looked at a rail line and thought, I wonder what the one genius who decided to build a bridge over this valley was thinking? Rand has. And notice that, thanks to Elon Musk, we actually finally do have a billionaire whose weird tunnel-boring projects are basically a form of performance art—a pure emanation of individual genius, and sort of useless to anyone else.