Homeless Programming And Robert McChesney’s Digital Disconnect

I believe I became aware of this story sometime last year while scouring Youtube for tutorials and Medium.com for JavaScript framework complaints.



Earlier this week, while waking up to feed my son, on my Youtube home screen, this video appeared:



Let us please be clear. While OWL will move on to address his doubts regarding technology as it exists in 2017 as this economic salve, there is something that needs to be addressed. This is about whyte saviors in hipster gear. This is about hegemonic symbols as aspirational drives. This is about profit motivations. After it is about all those things, it is about a system design to promote failure and buttress a color-coded social stratification.


That being written, I would like to visit Robert McChesney’s “Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism Is Turning The Internet Against Democracy”. In this book, he pens:


Political economy should be the organizing principle for evaluating the digital revolution for numerous reasons. The ways capitalism works and does not work determine the role the Internet might play in society. The profit motive, commercialism, public relations, marketing and advertising–all defining features of contemporary corporate capitalism–are foundational to any assessment of how the Internet has developed and is likely to develop. Any attempt to make sense of democracy divorced from its relationship to capitalism is dubious. Despite all of the routine assumptions equating capitalism–or its euphemism, free markets–with democracy, they remain distinct undertakings with very strong tensions that can boil over into direct conflict.

“Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism Is Turning The Internet Against Democracy”, Robert McChesney, pg 13


He furthers his point and his criticism of capitalism further in his book when he puts this forth:


It is only recently, as capitalism has floundered, that it has become almost mandatory to regard capitalism as permanent, irreplaceable, and benevolent. As recently as the 1960s and 1970s, when it produced golden-age results in America by today’s standards, it was more common to have frank, no-holds-barred discussions of the system’s merits and demerits. Gong back further, many of the great economists,
including John Stuart Mill and John Maynard Keynes, understood capitalism as a historically specific system, not as the eternal state of nature for humanity.

“Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism Is Turning The Internet Against Democracy”, Robert McChesney,pg 229


Robert McChesney furthers his argument:


“The capitalist system was able to thrive, on and off, during the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries,” Jerry Mander wrote in 2012. “But it’s now obsolete, nonmalleable, and increasing destructive.” Capitalism “had its day. If we care about the future well-being of humans and nature, it’s time to move on.” This is “radical” talk, but Mander, a former successful advertising executive, makes it clear that he is no socialist or Marxist. We are, in his view, at the point where we are dealing with an economy structured ‘to sustain the institutions and the people who sit at the top of the process.” The “system is bound to fail.”


Capitalism has become what Mander terms “a kind of ‘third rail’ of politics–forbidden to touch.” He acknowledges, “It remains okay to critique certain aspects of the system,” but the capitalist system itself “occupies a virtually permanent existence, like a religion, a gift of God, infallible.” The reason is obvious: those in power do not wish the system that makes them powerful to be questioned. Keeping capitalism off-limits to critical review is essential for that system, because it generates demoralization, disengagement, and apathy. This is not a political economy that can withstand much engaged political participation. To question the performance and suitability of really existing capitalism at a time when the world is falling to pieces does not necessarily make one an anticapitalist in some universal sense. It means one recognizes that a system that promotes poverty, inequality, waste, and destruction–to the point of making the planet uninhabitable–deserves no free pass from democratic interrogation in the present, whatever its past achievements.

“Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism Is Turning The Internet Against Democracy”, Robert McChesney, pg 228


Nearing his book’s conclusion, he succinctly poses:


…digital technologies may bring to a head, once and for all, the discrepancy between what a society could produce and what it actually does produce under capitalism. The Internet is the ultimate public good and is ideally suited for broad social development…Under really existing capitalism, however, few of the prospective benefits may be developed–not to mention spread widely. The corporate system will try to limit the technology to what best serves its purposes. Given capitalism’s track record and its corruption of the political system, we should not get our hopes up.

“Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism Is Turning The Internet Against Democracy”, Robert McChesney, pg. 227-228


Politics and economics are intimately connected. The crisis of our times is that capitalism undermines democracy.[…]

“Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism Is Turning The Internet Against Democracy”, Robert McChesney, pg. 231


I have my doubts about promoting STEM(Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) as this savior career choice and skillset. At root, this is a story of a business that fails in its unstated but aspirational profit objectives. Patrick begins this hero’s quest of sorts with language like “unjustly” homeless. That statement evokes and reinforces that wall around capitalism, that myth of Protestants of justly poor,
those Divinely sanctioned for life as slaves, peasants, paupers, prisoners, and homeless. It shows that his initial objective is less about helping others, more about raising someone to their proper position through this magic of code and business savvy.


While I do believe that Leo’s story removes much stigma surrounding homeless persons, I think it also fails to realize reasons why those stigmas, and homelessness, exists in these United States of America. No one high on any drug wishes for that intoxication to end. Most addiction is a form of chasing initial highs or greater ones. Power is a human high. It feels good to control others, to manipulate social conditions for one’s aims, to be acknowledged for such forays. All society is agreement. Capitalism(I really appreciate how McChesney words it,”really existing capitalism”) is a social contract that suggests some will be allowed to apotheosized above others for creating dams to resources we all contributed to amassing a surplus of in some means. Capitalism says to those like Leo, it is not your turn, and it may never be, despite whatever impetus Patrick’s of this society may actually be acting from.