Tech is the most American of all industries, but some techies aren't acting American at all
Peter Thiel is one of the most high- profile entrepreneurs and investors in Silicon Valley. He co-founded PayPal and Palantir, and was one of the first investors in Facebook, and Vator, actually. He doesn't need anyone to come to his defense, least of all me, but I'm going to do it anyway, because, at some point, the nonsense needs to stop.
Let me say it straight out: political views, and who you vote for, should never be used to discriminate against you. Our diverse views and culture are an essential part of our American democracy and our way of life. It is what makes us American. Right now though, some folks are acting very un-American.
If you've been paying attention to the news at all this year, then you know about Thiel's unequivocal support of Republican nominee Donald Trump.
Thiel was a California delegate for Trump, thereby helping him secure the nomination, and he spoke at the Republican National Convention in July, getting the spot right before Ivanka Trump came out to introduce the candidate himself.
There has even been talk of Trump naming Thiel as a Supreme Court judge, though both sides deny that there have has been any such discussion. Either way, there's no doubt that Thiel is a Trump supporter all the way, as is his right.
Dishearteningly, this has caused major controversy, especially over the past few days, after it came out over the weekend that Thiel was actually going to bankroll the Trump campaign, donating $1.25 million, which is to be split between the campaign and some conservative Super PACs.
All of the sudden, it seems like everyone in Silicon Valley has to have an opinion about Thiel, and what it means to have someone who supports Trump in their midst -- as if even being in his presence will somehow stain them forever.
Ellen Pao, head of Project Include, which calls itself a “community for building meaningful, enduring diversity and inclusion into tech companies,” announced this week that she was cutting ties with startup accelerator Y Combinator, where Thiel serves as an unpaid, part-time partner.
"While all of us believe in the ideas of free speech and open platforms, we draw a line here. We agree that people shouldn’t be fired for their political views, but this isn’t a disagreement on tax policy, this is advocating hatred and violence," she said. How about advocating conservative views? Did she forget that perhaps, or just maybe, Thiel would like a candidate who espouses, from his perspective, a stronger defense and sound economic policies [at least when it comes to trying to do something about the Fed's monetary policy and national debt]?
Even those who have come to Thiel's defence have begun find themselves under attack as well.
Sam Altman, the president of Y Combinator, wrote a blog post earlier this week in which he refused to fire Thiel, as some have been calling on him to do, drawing a line between the candidate and his supporters.
"Some have said that YC should terminate its relationship with Peter over this. But as repugnant as Trump is to many of us, we are not going to fire someone over his or her support of a political candidate," Altman wrote. "As far as we know, that would be unprecedented for supporting a major party nominee, and a dangerous path to start down (of course, if Peter said some of the things Trump says himself, he would no longer be part of Y Combinator)."
In response, now some are calling on Altman himself to resign, simply because he stood up for someone's right to their political beliefs. That is how far this has gone.
The only word I can come up for this is "shameful." Actually, I can think of another word that fits just as well: McCarthyism.
Just imagine someone, in the not too distant future, asking, "Are you now or have you ever been a supporter of Donald Trump?" If so, you will become a pariah, someone shunned by the community, who will apparently refuse to engage with you or any of your "wrong" ideas.
This kind of thinking goes against everything that Silicon Valley purports itself to stand for: diversity of ideas, thoughts and opinions. Go to any conference, and you'll so much talk about disruption, which essentially means taking an old, outdated system and shaking it up, forcing it to come into a new century.
How much disruption could there ever be, though, if everyone is too afraid to speak their minds? Technology is supposed to pave the way to the future, and that doesn't happen through censorship, political or otherwise.
As American jobs move overseas, technology and the entrepreneurial spirit has become our greatest export, behind only what comes out of Hollywood. It is, right now, the most American of industries: filled with people who start with nothing, armed with only ingenuity and an idea, which, if they are lucky, are able to turn into a business worth billions of dollars.
Yet, repudiating someone simply for disagreeing with you is the most un-American of acts.
It's perfectly fine to disagree with Thiel and Trump and to reject what they believe in. Personally, I find the candidate to be repugnant, and representative of the worst ideals of the country. I think he brings out something really ugly in people. While I understand why the idea of supporting a candidate like him is appealing, I find the man himself such a turn off that I find it difficult to understand how anyone can cheer him on.
In the end, I don't have to understand it. I just have to respect the right of others to vote for him. That’s what those in tech are currently not doing.
Just today, Mark Zuckerberg defended Thiel, who sits on the company's board of directors, and his right to have his beliefs and a job at the same time.
"We can't create a culture that says it cares about diversity and then excludes almost half the country because they back a political candidate," Zuckerberg said. "There are many reasons a person might support Trump that do not involve racism, sexism, xenophobia or accepting sexual assault."
"Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes," Steve Jobs once said. Let's hope that Silicon Valley never truly loses that spirit.
(Image source: nytimes.com)