Theranos what morals for silicon valley

Theranos: what morals for Silicon Valley?

Theranos what morals for silicon valley

Theranos: what morals for Silicon Valley?

Theranos

Elizabeth Holmes, founder of the Theranos start-up and ephemeral star of Silicon Valley, has just been sentenced for fraud to eleven years in prison by the San José court (she is appealing). Theranos had been wildly successful in the 2010s, reaching a valuation of US$ 9 billion, promising to revolutionize medical analyzes using a simple drop of blood taken from the finger.

It turned out that its technology was by no means perfect, that most of its blood tests were performed discreetly on traditional devices, and that the results communicated to patients were incorrect. Methodically concealing these dysfunctions, Theranos had become the Potemkin village of medical expertise.

It turned out that its technology was by no means perfect, that most of its blood tests were performed discreetly on traditional devices, and that the results communicated to patients were incorrect. Methodically concealing these dysfunctions, Theranos had become the Potemkin village of medical expertise.

Theranos: what morals for Silicon Valley?

Quasi-mafia violence

To understand the resistible rise of Elizabeth Holmes as well as her Promethean fall, one must read “Bad Blood” by John Carreyrou, the investigative journalist of the “Wall Street Journal” who uncovered the deception. We are dizzy in the face of the quasi-mafia-like violence of the American professional world, the permanent legalization of human relations, the cult of secrecy that turns to paranoia, and the impression of amateurism that pierces under the decorum of lawyers and bodyguards.

Elizabeth’s studied character construction is fascinating. With boundless cynicism and cruel ambition in the day-to-day management of her business, she presents her investors and the media with the dream face of the Valley. We can consider a young blonde woman imposing herself in a man’s world, a prodigy leaving Stanford to revolutionize science, an idealist full of empathy for the suffering of the sick. No doubt she had ended up, looking at herself in the two-way mirror of schizophrenia, by believing her own lies.

But what morals are we talking about?

Remarkably neutral and factual throughout his story, Carreyrou only allows himself to conclude about his heroine that “her moral compass was damn perverted”. But what morals are we talking about?

Capitalism offers such freedom to its actors that it cannot function properly without them respecting strong personal ethics; otherwise, he is doomed to excesses and their consequences, hyperregulation.

Before becoming the thinker of the wealth of nations, Adam Smith was a severe moral philosopher, author of a “Theory of Moral Sentiments” according to which self-esteem can only derive from the conscience of one’s duty and from the practice generosity; conversely, only the corruption of our moral sense leads us to admire riches.

Max Weber will theorize a century later the intrinsic link between the spirit of capitalism and the Protestant ethic, made of personal austerity and discipline at work.

Fake it until you make it.

She was distributing “The Alchemist”

There is no doubt that Elizabeth Holmes, with her personal cook and her private jet, is at odds with the Protestant ethic. Nevertheless, she perhaps follows better than anyone a moral code, that of Silicon Valley, which is based on two principles.

First, “surpass oneself”. Fascinated by Steve Jobs, from whom she borrows her eternal black turtleneck, Holmes inscribes on the walls of Theranos the most silly formulas of personal development. Then, “change the world”. It doesn’t really matter if it’s good or bad: the main thing is to produce an impact. The company then becomes a quasi-religious entity.

Convincing

Elizabeth regularly gathered her employees to convince them that they were preparing to save humanity, even distributing copies of “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho to them who were to accompany them in this mystical quest. If Elizabeth Holmes had launched a social network rather than a biotech, she might have achieved her goals. He would have been forgiven for his exaggerations in the name of the Valley’s first command: “Fake it until you make it”.

Through Elizabeth Holmes, it is contemporary capitalism that the San José court has just condemned. Wanting to “transcend oneself” or “change the world”. This would have been considered by any Greek philosopher as the alarming symptoms of adolescent hubris. It was much better to know yourself and respect the order of nature.

Two ancient principles that would be very precious to us today. It is not enough to constrain capitalism with CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility); as if a company could assume the slightest “responsibility” when its leaders refrain from doing so. It is the capitalists themselves who need a new personal ethic. Nosce te ipsum! [know thyself!]

Sources: CleverlySmart, PinterPandai, BBC, Insider Inc, The New York Times

Photo credit: frolicsomepl via Pixabay

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