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Is Silicon Valley threatening democracy?

Noam Cohen, author of “The Know-It-Alls,” thinks so, and explains why on the latest Recode Decode.

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The cover of “The Know-It-Alls” by Noam Cohen The New Press

Libertarianism — or, at least, a version of it — is popular among some people in the tech industry. And that scares Noam Cohen, the author of “The Know-It-Alls.”

“I’d spent a lot of time with hacker and computer-programmer types and it was one thing, in the computer lab, to have these kind of views: Hostile to outsiders and very arrogant,” Cohen said on the latest episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher. “It’s another thing to have them running our society, and that’s what made me scared.”

In his new book, Cohen argues that a culture of intense individualism, ruthless efficiency and broad opposition to government regulation may be good for a company’s stock price — but it’s bad for society and our communities.

“The Bible has this idea of ‘gleaners,’ where you’re supposed to harvest your field once and let people glean off of it,” he said. “There’s something a little obscene about always doing everything in the most efficient way and not thinking of the social cost and the ties that bind us. At some point, you’d hope that these respected leaders of these very important companies would see that for themselves.”

You can listen to Recode Decode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

On the new podcast, Cohen diagnosed how Google, Facebook and Twitter are respectively responsible for political unrest in America and around the world. In Facebook’s case, he said CEO Mark Zuckerberg is “deluded” by his own faith in Facebook’s ability to be a force for good in the world.

“I think he might genuinely think he’s doing good,” Cohen said. “It might be hard to shake him out of it. That’s a little worrisome, that he just isn’t able to see reality.”

(For what it’s worth, Facebook just reported its best quarterly earnings ever, even as the company has fallen under intense scrutiny from Congress and the public.)

More generally, Cohen also suggested Silicon Valley’s politics are causing us to value our own families less and less.

“It’s not a coincidence that these are ‘tech bros’ and not ‘tech sisters,’” he said. “In essence, to believe in libertarianism, to believe in this ruthless world, you have to believe that you get here as an adult miraculously. There’s no mother who raised you, no family. It’s a dangerous, pernicious view.”

“The idea of living forever, which Peter Thiel and others talk about, is a real way of devaluing family and the way we are, historically, from the beginning of time,” he added. “We’re part of a community and unfortunately we die, as well.”

If you like this show, you should also sample our other podcasts:

  • Recode Media with Peter Kafka features no-nonsense conversations with the smartest and most interesting people in the media world, with new episodes every Thursday. Use these links to subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.
  • Too Embarrassed to Ask, hosted by Kara Swisher and The Verge’s Lauren Goode, answers the tech questions sent in by our readers and listeners. You can hear new episodes every Friday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.
  • And Recode Replay has all the audio from our live events, including the Code Conference, Code Media and the Code Commerce Series. Subscribe today on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

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