Cowboy on a horse facing away with cattle spread across a plain ahead and mountains in the background.

Linked – The Making of a Myth: Big Tech, Billionaires, and the Wild West

This is a really interesting read. I’ll admit that part of the appeal to me in reading this was something I’d been thinking about for a while now; each time I see an episode of one of the Various versions of the Yellowstone TV series or see some political “expert” talking about pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps.

The thing that came to mind is that there is this image of the heroic people who survived the harsh “West” and that there is an acceptance that if you couldn’t succeed through repeated attacks on your land, property, and self, that it was almost a mercy that you die and leave the settlements to people who could win a gun battle.

It never seems to occur to anyone that a society that worked to help each other wouldn’t have to be so harsh. That rugged individualism isn’t the only way society has to be, and just because we identify as this rugged individualistic country, we don’t have to remain stuck in that system.

But this article reminds us that most of it was a myth, too. Especially about the part about succeeding without any help from the government:

Initially, Federal laws encouraged early western homesteaders to settle by offering 160 acres of federal land for only the cost of an initial filing fee. Along with those 160 acres, ranchers and homesteaders were able to claim water rights and graze their cattle on public lands at no cost. The sense of ownership over public western lands increased, and some cattle ranchers began to erect barbed wire enclosures to keep out other competing users of the land, along with other tactics that created a hostile atmosphere that helped keep competition away.

As the article explains, this cowboy myth we all grew up with is a myth. Success often came at the expense of others and with plenty of assistance. From taking Native lands by the government to then handing it out for free, the men who went on to become the land and cattle barons of the West did not earn it solely through their hard work. They were given handouts. They were ignored and allowed to break the rules until they did what everyone with that kind of power does: go too far and force the government to step in and regulate them. (And let’s not even get started on the fact that only white men were allowed to participate in this program.)

When Big Tech bros talk about being the cowboys of the modern age, the myth is what they want you to believe. They want us to believe that they are so brilliant and creative that they succeed without assistance and will solve any problem without needing oversight or regulation. They’ll forget to mention that the Internet they are building on only exists because of government programs or that many of them have gotten plenty of handouts from government and private equity. They will also not like to be reminded of the many ways they have overstepped and done real harm.

Because they are the modern cowboys. Not the mythical ones, but the ones that caused the dustbowl and had to be forced not to break the law. We should remember that part of history.

One final point. I do believe we need to stop treating tech moguls with kid gloves. We need to stop seeing glowing reviews of their genius morning routines and all the many ways they have been successful without any mention of the many advantages they have been given in life and business. We also need regulation, but regulation by people who are competent enough to oversee the tech sector and understand the harm it causes. I do not believe our current crop of politicians, for the most part, should not be the ones doing it. They are woefully unqualified, and most legislation passed or suggested is terrible.


This is a problem because it does not address any real harm but provides cover for those same tech bros. They point to bad legislation and say, “Look, you don’t understand what we’re doing, so let us worry about how to regulate ourselves.”

We can’t trust them to do that. We can’t trust our current politicians to regulate them, either. Things have got to change.

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