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Beholden to the geeks

Neal Stephenson contributed a very sharp editorial to the NYT last Friday, which may have been overlooked by some because it reads like a Star Wars sociological text for most of the text.

It’s the last few paragraphs, which follow on the theme he introduced in In the Beginning, Was the Command Line, which have the punch:

Scientists and technologists have the same uneasy status in our society as the Jedi in the Galactic Republic. They are scorned by the cultural left and the cultural right, and young people avoid science and math classes in hordes. The tedious particulars of keeping ourselves alive, comfortable and free are being taken offline to countries where people are happy to sweat the details, as long as we have some foreign exchange left to send their way. Nothing is more seductive than to think that we, like the Jedi, could be masters of the most advanced technologies while living simple lives: to have a geek standard of living and spend our copious leisure time vegging out.

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Thorstein Veblen called this one almost a century ago. Heilbroner, at least, held that Veblen’s most lasting insight was the oncoming rise of the engineers into a dominant class.

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