Opinion

Silicon Valley's shameful purging of Peter Thiel

The tech world is turning up its nose at a Trump supporter in its ranks, and showing its double standard in the process

If there are saints in the church of secular progressivism, the Hollywood Ten are surely among them. These are the individuals who worked in Hollywood and were cited for contempt of Congress for refusing to answer the question, "Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?" — thus becoming political martyrs.

In its popular form, the story of the Hollywood blacklist has been distorted somewhat. While the fear of Communist agitators — a fear not wholly removed from fact — working in Hollywood was used by Sen. Joe McCarthy for opportunistic political motives, the movement was originally launched by private individuals genuinely interested in removing Communist influence from Hollywood, and they did this through peaceful, "non-coercive" means: naming and shaming, boycotts, and threats of boycotts.

Several members of the Hollywood Ten actually were members of the Communist Party and had remained members of the Communist Party even after the Stalinist Purges of the 1930s that removed that party's credibility in America. That is to say, whatever their other beliefs or intentions, they endorsed the end of liberal democracy and the advent of a global totalitarian government ruled by Joseph Stalin or someone like him. And yet, the idea that such people should be blacklisted is regarded as anathema by the contemporary left. So they are seen as progressive saints.

I point this out because you may have heard that the renowned Silicon Valley investor Peter Thiel, a man whom it is seemingly impossible to refer to without using the word "contrarian," is a supporter of Donald Trump. After Thiel recently decided to donate $1.25 million to Trump's campaign, the group Project Include, led by former venture capitalist Ellen Pao, has decided to sever ties, not even with Thiel himself, but with Y Combinator, a renowned Silicon Valley incubator that has named Thiel as a part-time partner.

It seems that on the progressive left, blacklists are only bad when they target a certain group of people.

Pao's stated rationale for this is hard to understand. Using the royal "we," she declares herself "confused by his seasteading funding" (Thiel has in the past funded attempts to build self-sustaining colonies at sea, which seems neither here nor there, except if you just want to say, "Look at the weirdo!"). She writes that "we draw a line at individuals who fund violence and hate" but doesn't substantiate this serious allegation with arguments or facts. Given that Hillary Clinton has called many of Trump's supporters "deplorables," is contributing to her campaign funding hate? Given that, unlike Trump, she has actual responsibilities for military interventions in the Middle East, is contributing to her campaign funding violence?

The closest we get to an argument is when Pao says, "giving more power to someone whose ascension and behavior strike fear into so many people is unacceptable," parroting the idea of the campus left that speech that makes anybody uncomfortable should be prohibited, an idea that is incompatible with liberal democracy as we classically understand it.

I've written reams and reams about my opposition to Donald Trump. I have called numerous times on the GOP to dump him, even if it were politically unsound, simply for honor and virtue's sake. I've called him a proto-fascist. I believe he's manifestly temperamentally unfit to be president, and I believe his campaign is unhealthily stoking dark forces in the American psyche.

But I also find myself utterly incapable of shunning someone for supporting Trump. His movement is based in significant part on real, serious, honorable grievances. Some people inside the Republican Party support Trump as a sort of wrecking-ball to a corrupt GOP establishment; while I believe the cure is worse than the disease, I sometimes can't blame them given my own grievances against the GOP establishment.

I live in France, and we have had a Trump-like movement in the National Front for 20 years. And the thing that is unmistakable about the rise of the National Front — now the most popular party in France — is that what is now referred to in the press as "the demonization strategy" has not only failed but contributed to the National Front's rise. The best thing to do to make discontents angry is to stoke their discontent.

But this isn't just about politics. It's also about what Silicon Valley is, which as a former venture capitalist, Pao should know something about. Great innovators, great thinkers, great inventors — they are almost always weirdos. Famously, Isaac Newton was a strange kind of mystic, and considered his work in alchemy at least as important as his work in physics. Steve Jobs had bizarre diets all his life, and it took many years for his colleagues to get him to practice proper hygiene. He even believed in school vouchers, an idea that some on the left believe is racist. Mark Zuckerberg is far from being the most charismatic person in the world, and wears the same shirts every day. Great thinkers are often weirdos.

Taking a step back from the insanity of presidential campaigns and ideology, a key driver of Silicon Valley's success — and America's success — has been precisely that, its tolerance for weirdos and wackadoodles of all kinds. Its tolerance for "the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes, the ones who see things differently," as Steve Jobs famously said.

There's no doubt that Silicon Valley needs to make progress on diversity when it comes to underrepresented groups and that this is an important endeavor. But on this equally crucial kind of diversity, Silicon Valley has been an example to the world. Until now, it seems.

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