Over the last ten, but especially five, years, the local discourse around Seattle’s social atmosphere has overwhelmingly come down to two words: Tech Bros. Like most utility slang, it’s gone from a fairly specific critique of some parts of tech culture to a catch all for folks, generally transplants, who work in tech.
With this evolution, there’s also come to be a sense that where once Seattle was Good— a little precious, maybe, but Good— it’s now Bad. Because there are all these tech bro assholes moving here and ruining everything. The complaint has become ubiquitous enough to take place of weather, or even housing prices (though when housing comes up, there’s an easy solution): Ship all the tech bros out. Somehow.
It wasn’t always like this
The term tech bro wasn’t always everywhere, nor as accepted. While some of this is due to the thousands of people moving to town every day, there’s also a sense in which this language has been accepted as common sense, self-evident.
Now don’t get me wrong—I’m not here to defend the tech bros who match the following definition: A tech bro is someone new to the town, loudly oblivious to its culture and customs, operating with a maddening combination of privilege and lack of social graces, often with hefty doses of misogyny, racism, classism, etc.
This is not a person I enjoy, and I wish they’d just stop.
But man, I grew up here, and while this specific breed of asshole may be a unique cocktail cooked up by Bezos and served up at any number of IPA-flinging new sports bars in town, it’s not like there were no assholes here before. This town was full of assholes, of different stripes. There’s no way to prove this, but one could almost argue that per-capita, the number of assholes has only held steady— maybe even gone down!
This is conjecture, of course, but for example: we had rich, conservative assholes who frequently lamented what a “hippie town” Seattle is (they’re all still here, btw.) We had belligerent, talk-over-you bros at the bar (this is a basic human personality type you will find anywhere.) We had vicious high school bullies who every summer asked for you to help fund their church group’s trip to Nicaragua (definitely still here— how do you think Mars Hill grew so fast— and where do you think those people went?)
We had people whose bands had never played a show but were better than everyone— as people— because they wore the right shoes (most of these people are DJs or work at magazines now, but, STILL HERE.) We had 4chan/reddit/whateverfreshhelltheinternethasproduced assholes who have been shitposting so long they don’t know what they believe any more (still here, and keep coming.) To post a comprehensive list would take me too long. So I won’t.
But the assholes matter less…
…than the fact that this type of conversation about “who is ruining” the city fails to address systemic and policy problems that run a lot thornier than whether a person is a transplant or a local, and even whether they’re an asshole or not. Because of the policy issues caused by Seattle’s boom, the city’s relationship to Amazon cannot be resolved on a basis of whether or not one likes or dislikes specific individuals and groups.
These sorts of reasonings and arguments creep into policy discussions frequently. Which makes sense. They’re human interest stories. It’s easier to get someones rage up talking about the loud group of brogrammers who ruined your commute than to broach a discussion of levies. But what too often happens is the parsing of people into “good” or “bad.”
You see this in economic issues all the time —”We need affordable housing so that we can keep the artists here who make our city interesting and fun!” vs. “Don’t put affordable housing here! It will attract dirty criminals and drug users!” “Everyone who comes to work for Amazon is a corporate drone brogrammer libertarian!” vs. “All the new people are creating a rich tapestry of humanity that keeps the city positively buzzing with life and energy! Plus they’re rich and might buy my paintings.”
Because even before we had multiple tech companies luring folks from all corners of the world to our fair city, we had years of redlining, often supported and enforced by aforementioned grumbly conservative types. We’ve had years of anti growth (excuse me, “smart growth”) zoning policies, frequently pushed forward by the home-owning churchgoers sending their bully children to Nicaragua. We’ve had all sorts of corruption. The list goes on.
Amazon hasn’t created those problems, nor would they be automatically resolved in its absence. But the city’s accelerated boom has simply shone a light on the need to have addressed these problems twenty five years ago, and now policy makers are faced with mountains of problems that are frequently still boiled down to aesthetics.
So we’re a city of assholes. But maybe our policies don’t need to reflect that.
Also published on Medium.