## May reason trump the Trump in all of us

Two years ago, when I was the target of an online shaming campaign, what helped me through it were hundreds of messages of support from friends, slight acquaintances, and strangers of every background.  I vowed then to return the favor, by standing up when I saw decent people unfairly shamed.  Today I have an opportunity to make good.

Some time ago I had the privilege of interacting a bit with Sam Altman, president of the famed startup incubator Y Combinator (and a guy who’s thanked in pretty much everything Paul Graham writes).  By way of our mutual friend, the renowned former quantum computing researcher Michael Nielsen, Sam got in touch with me to solicit suggestions for “outside-the-box” scientists and writers, for a new grant program that Y Combinator was starting. I found Sam eager to delve into the merits of any suggestion, however outlandish, and was delighted to be able to make a difference for a few talented people who needed support.

Sam has also been one of the Silicon Valley leaders who’s written most clearly and openly about the threat to America posed by Donald Trump and the need to stop him, and he’s donated tens of thousands of dollars to anti-Trump causes.  Needless to say, I supported Sam on that as well.

Now Sam is under attack on social media, and there are even calls for him to resign as the president of Y Combinator.  Like me two years ago, Sam has instantly become the corporeal embodiment of the “nerd privilege” that keeps the marginalized out of Silicon Valley.

Why? Because, despite his own emphatic anti-Trump views, Sam rejected demands to fire Peter Thiel (who has an advisory role at Y Combinator) because of Thiel’s support for Trump.  Sam explained his reasoning at some length:

[A]s repugnant as Trump is to many of us, we are not going to fire someone over his or her support of a political candidate.  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) … The way we got into a situation with Trump as a major party nominee in the first place was by not talking to people who are very different than we are … I don’t understand how 43% of the country supports Trump.  But I’d like to find out, because we have to include everyone in our path forward.  If our best ideas are to stop talking to or fire anyone who disagrees with us, we’ll be facing this whole situation again in 2020.

The usual criticism of nerds is that we might have narrow technical abilities, but we lack wisdom about human affairs.  It’s ironic, then, that it appears to have fallen to Silicon Valley nerds to guard some of the most important human wisdom our sorry species ever came across—namely, the liberal ideals of the Enlightenment.  Like Sam, I despise pretty much everything Trump stands for, and I’ve been far from silent about it: I’ve blogged, donated money, advocated vote swapping, endured anonymous comments like “kill yourself kike”—whatever seemed like it might help even infinitesimally to ensure the richly-deserved electoral thrashing that Trump mercifully seems to be headed for in a few weeks.

But I also, I confess, oppose the forces that apparently see Trump less as a global calamity to be averted, than as a golden opportunity to take down anything they don’t like that’s ever been spotted within a thousand-mile radius of Trump Tower.  (Where does this Kevin Bacon game end, anyway?  Do “six degrees of Trump” suffice to contaminate you?)

And not only do I not feel a shadow of a hint of a moral conflict here, but it seems to me that precisely the same liberal Enlightenment principles are behind both of these stances.

But I’d go yet further.  It sort of flabbergasts me when social-justice activists don’t understand that, if we condemn not only Trump, not only his supporters, but even vociferous Trump opponents who associate with Trump supporters (!), all we’ll do is feed the narrative that got Trumpism as far as it has—namely, that of a smug, bubble-encased, virtue-signalling leftist elite subject to runaway political correctness spirals.  Like, a hundred million Americans’ worldviews revolve around the fear of liberal persecution, and we’re going to change their minds by firing anyone who refuses to fire them?  As a recent Washington Post story illustrates, the opposite approach is harder but can bear spectacular results.

Now, as for Peter Thiel: three years ago, he funded a small interdisciplinary workshop on the coast of France that I attended.  With me there were a bunch of honest-to-goodness conservative Christians, a Freudian psychoanalyst, a novelist, a right-wing radio host, some scientists and Silicon Valley executives, and of course Thiel himself.  Each, I found, offered tons to disagree about but also some morsels to learn.

Thiel’s worldview, focused on the technological and organizational greatness that (in his view) Western civilization used to have and has subsequently lost, was a bit too dark and pessimistic for me, and I’m a pretty dark and pessimistic person.  Thiel gave a complicated, meandering lecture that involved comparing modern narratives about Silicon Valley entrepreneurs against myths of gods, heroes, and martyrs throughout history, such as Romulus and Remus (the legendary founders of Rome).  The talk might have made more sense to Thiel than to his listeners.

At the same time, Thiel’s range of knowledge and curiosity was pretty awesome.  He avidly followed all the talks (including mine, on P vs. NP and quantum complexity theory) and asked pertinent questions. When the conversation turned to D-Wave, and Thiel’s own decision not to invest in it, he laid out the conclusions he’d come to from an extremely quick look at the question, then quizzed me as to whether he’d gotten anything wrong.  He hadn’t.

From that conversation among others, I formed the impression that Thiel’s success as an investor is, at least in part, down neither to luck nor to connections, but to a module in his brain that most people lack, which makes blazingly fast and accurate judgments about tech startups.  No wonder Y Combinator would want to keep him as an adviser.

But, OK, I’m so used to the same person being spectacularly right on some things and spectacularly wrong on others, that it no longer causes even slight cognitive dissonance.  You just take the issues one by one.

I was happy, on balance, when it came out that Thiel had financed the lawsuit that brought down Gawker Media.  Gawker really had used its power to bully the innocent, and it had broken the law to do it.  And if it’s an unaccountable, anti-egalitarian, billionaire Godzilla against a vicious, privacy-violating, nerd-baiting King Kong—well then, I guess I’m with Godzilla.

More recently, I was appalled when Thiel spoke at the Republican convention, pandering to the crowd with Fox-News-style attack lines that were unworthy of a mind of his caliber.  I lost a lot of respect for Thiel that day.  But that’s the thing: unlike with literally every other speaker at the GOP convention, my respect for Thiel had started from a point that made a decrease possible.

I reject huge parts of Thiel’s worldview.  I also reject any worldview that would threaten me with ostracism for talking to Thiel, attending a workshop he sponsors, or saying anything good about him.  This is not actually a difficult balance.

Today, when it sometimes seems like much of the world has united in salivating for a cataclysmic showdown between whites and non-whites, Christians and Muslims, “dudebros” and feminists, etc., and that the salivators differ mostly just in who they want to see victorious in the coming battle and who humiliated, it can feel lonely to stick up for naïve, outdated values like the free exchange of ideas, friendly disagreement, the presumption of innocence, and the primacy of the individual over the tribe.  But those are the values that took us all the way from a bronze spear through the enemy’s heart to a snarky rebuttal on the arXiv, and they’ll continue to build anything worth building.

And now to watch the third debate (I’ll check the comments afterward)…

Update (Oct. 20): See also this post from a blog called TheMoneyIllusion. My favorite excerpt:

So let’s see. Not only should Trump be shunned for his appalling political views, an otherwise highly respected Silicon Valley entrepreneur who just happens to support Trump (along with 80 million other Americans) should also be shunned. And a person who despises Trump and works against him but who defends Thiel’s right to his own political views should also resign. Does that mean I should be shunned too? After all, I’m a guy who hates Trump, writing a post that defends a guy who hates Trump, who wrote a post defending a guy’s freedom to support Trump, who in turn supports Trump. And suppose my mother sticks up for me? Should she also be shunned?

It’s almost enough to make me vote . . . no, just kidding.

Question … Which people on the left are beyond the pale? Suppose Thiel had supported Hugo Chavez? How about Castro? Mao? Pol Pot? Perhaps the degrees of separation could be calibrated to the awfulness of the left-winger:

Chavez: One degree of separation. (Corbyn, Sean Penn, etc.)

Castro: Two degrees of separation is still toxic.

Lenin: Three degrees of separation.

Mao: Four degrees of separation.

Pol Pot: Five degrees of separation.

### 143 Responses to “May reason trump the Trump in all of us”

1. Sniffnoy Says:

But I’d go yet further. It sort of flabbergasts me when social-justice activists don’t understand that, if we condemn not only Trump, not only his supporters, but even vociferous Trump opponents who associate with Trump supporters (!), all we’ll do is to feed the narrative that got Trumpism as far as it has—namely, that of a smug, bubble-encased, virtue-signalling leftist elite subject to runaway political correctness spirals.

Yudkowsky said it well: You don’t have to tolerate everything, but you should always tolerate tolerance.

By way of our mutual friend, the renowned former quantum computing researcher Michael Nielsen, Sam got in touch with me to solicit suggestions for “outside-the-box” scientists and writers, for a new grant program that Y Combinator was starting.

Oh man! I’m totally outside the box! Unfortunately I don’t think there’s much of a way to make money on weak models of computation over the natural numbers or on unusual operations on ordinals… 😛

2. Peter Woit Says:

Scott,
Congrats for this, an all-too-unusual sensible take on the Thiel/Trump story.

Amidst the horrors of current-day politics, I spend some time trying to understand how we got here, and what’s behind the Trump lunacy. You address part of what’s going on behind that well. As for Thiel himself, it’s not clear to me whether his dark side is sui generis, or whether it shares something with and illuminates the more general Trump phenomenon. Like many things involving human craziness though, maybe that’s not worth trying to understand.

3. Newbie Says:

Refusing to tolerate people who tolerate Trump reminds me of the sort of ideological conformity I’ve observed in fundamentalist circles, where disagreement isn’t tolerated because the truth is so blindingly obvious and error is so inherently evil.

If you haven’t heard of Palmer Luckey, he’s another target of gawker media for funding a group that supports Trump, some developers are planning on not developing for Oculus as a result (he claims he doesn’t support Trump himself). http://gizmodo.com/is-facebook-disappearing-oculus-founder-palmer-luckey-1787705084

If you take this trend to an extreme, you end up with a parallel economy, where people with differing political views don’t engage economically with each other, don’t talk to each other, and can’t tolerate each other’s existence. I firmly believe that tolerating people who are deeply wrong, and would make the world worse if their ideas were enacted is at the basis of a free society, because that’s exactly what someone else would say about you.

I think we can beat bad ideas with better arguments, and trying to destroy people for believing the wrong thing is a incredibly toxic philosophy to follow.

4. Buck Says:

I agree with Scott that Sam shouldn’t resign from YC, and I don’t like it when people try to get people fired for political reasons. But I think people who are concerned about this kind of witch-hunt do themselves a disservice by failing to consider the magnitude of witch-hunts before freaking out about them.

Sure, some shitty journalist on Gizmodo called for Sam’s resignation. But there are, like, hundreds of shitty journalists, and at least one of them is going to be in favor of any stupid idea you name.

I’ve never seen Hacker News more united than in the comments on an article yesterday which criticised Sam’s article: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12733024

I don’t see evidence of a very strong witch-hunt here. And reacting disproportionately makes it easier for people on the left to dismiss all complains of unreasonable witch-hunts. So I urge Scott to moderation here.

5. Newbie Says:

Buck #4: It’s a fair point that we shouldn’t make mountains out of molehills and claim persecution where none exists. But I do think it’s legitimate to talk about these cases and re-affirm our commitment to tolerance.

I occasionally see articles that find someone on twitter with five followers saying something offensive and key on that as an example of how everyone thinks and make a mountain out of a molehill. I wouldn’t want to echo that pattern for witch hunts, and treat every piece of crappy journalism as a crisis that shows how endangered tolerance is. But I think enough of these cases exist, and there are enough people trying to spark witch hunts that it’s legitimate to douse the cinders in water and re-affirm the principles for why trying to get someone fired in this case would be the wrong response. If you wait until everyone else piles on an issue, it might be too late to shift opinion. If you do your job well, you might be able to avoid having any huge fires to put out.

6. JHC Says:

Thanks for sharing your point of view. I am with you on this particular issue that Mr Altman should not resign and should not have to fire Mr Thiel. My take on this is that Mr Thiel is a gambler, like investors are, and he is good at it. I believe the biggest reason he supported Mr Trump and gave a large sum of money to his campaign was to gain something in case Mr Trump wins. (Mr Trump’s chances of winning were not as low as they are these days.) This reasoning reduces my cognitive dissonance when it comes to Mr Thiel’s actions taken as a whole.

7. Another Trump Democrat Says:

The Left has become extremely cult-like, and devoid of empathy. If you disagree with them, they condemn you as morally inferior. Because I am opposed to crime, terrorism and illegal immigration, I am labelled an intolerant bigot (and even a deplorable redneck by the Clintons themselves). The growth of this visciously cruel side of The Left is something that I find absolutely terrifying, especially when they are siding with the criminals on every issue, while villifying their opponents. They plan to give the vote to millions of criminals (convicted felons and illegal immigrants) to try to permanently rig all future elections in their favor. This means that the sensible, reasonable, safe choice is Trump.

8. Nilima Nigam Says:

In the spirit of congeniality, I’d like to allay the fears raised in #7.

http://www.theonion.com/article/intergalactic-law-enforcement-officers-place-energ-54466

9. Christopher Silvia Says:

Since you said that you appreciate it when people write in with messages of support, I’ll oblige 🙂

I agree with you 100%, and I’m very glad I’m not in Sam Altman’s position. I think that having to deal with this kind of thing is one example of why I don’t want to be in charge of anything!

10. quax Says:

Newbie #3, my understanding is that the Palmer Luckey case is quite different. It has been reported that he financed astroturfing and trolling to spread anti-Hillary memes online. I.e. he essentially financed an online mob to undermine her reputation, facilitating anonymously the kind of cyber deludge that Scott is all too acquainted with.

11. Another Trump Democrat Says:

@#8 Okay the Onion is funny. But trying to rig future elections by giving the vote to millions of convicted felons and illegal immigrants is not funny. Not funny at all. It’s horrifying.

12. David Karger Says:

Scott, I agree with you about Altman. But that’s the easy part. Harder is the question of whether Altman made the right decision about Thiel?

13. jonas Says:

Scott, thank you for taking the time to write about this and spending some of the credit of the popularity of your blog on it. Here too, it would be great if we get people to not fire leaders or stop talking to people just because they disagree on current politics.

14. Ant Z Says:

What I find most paradoxical is that those who salivate at the word ‘diversity’ are simulatenously vociferous opponents to someone who has a divergent opinion.

Disclaimer: I like Peter, also think Trump is a bad human being.

15. fraac Says:

Well said. It’s disappointing when people you usually agree with slip into Us v Them thinking, as if the good guys will win not by being good but by destroying the bad guys. I tend to think we need new Jesuses. We’re simple animals who mostly want to be led.

16. domotorp Says:

17. Dissenting Opinion Says:

Scott, the problem with this system is that it gives Thiel-like people a simple exploit: maintain an enigmatic silence (to avoid the “if Peter said some of the things Trump said, he would no longer be part of YC”). Good, honest friends will martyr themselves on your behalf in the best traditions of the liberal enlightenment, while you pay sockpuppets and Trumps to do the speaking for you in service to whatever deep game you’re playing.

DHH et al agree that it would be wrong to fire employees based on their political opinions. Paul/Sam agree that YC would not do business with Trump. So the 6 degrees comparison is a bit of a stretch. It is reasonable to question whether a billionaire free agent who bankrolls Trump *after* the can of worms opened (when the last remnant of plausible deniability and suspension of disbelief re Trump evaporated and McCain et al took the exit option it offered) is so closely identified with him as to be considered 0th degree, and merit the same treatment.

18. STE Says:

So does this post mean you disagree with Lubos Motl’s accusation that “Once people like Aaronson take over a country, they become secretaries responsible for the logistics – deciding e.g. how to get the deplorables to a Gulag with a limited number of buses.”

19. Scott Says:

STE #18: Like with much of what Lubos says, the verb “disagree” seems puny and inadequate here.

There was a reason why I vowed a few years ago not to converse with Lubos until 2017. Let me now take the opportunity to extend that until 2020.

20. Scott Says:

DO #17: Yes, that’s always the risk you run in a liberal, democratic, law-governed society—that even the people who outwardly abide by the rules might have a secret “long game” to undermine civilization. Ironically, that’s precisely the “argument” (if you can call it that) made by the Trumpists who’d like to expel or discriminate against even apparently law-abiding Muslims and Mexicans. In the latter case, I’m sure you’d agree that people don’t get to substitute their personal suspicions about hidden “deep games” for liberal democratic norms, so I hope you’ll agree in the Thiel case as well.

21. Maciej Ceglowski Says:

I’m one of the people who has repeatedly called for YC to disavow Thiel for his support of Trump, and I’m dismayed to see you repeating Altman’s misrepresentation that this is a call to “fire” Thiel.

For one thing, Thiel is a YC business partner, not an employee.

For another, what’s problematic are not Thiel’s opinions, but his political actions: keynoting at an event that even Republican luminaries boycotted, and doubling down with a donation to someone who had just bragged about his history of sexual assault, and then attacked the women who stepped forward to corroborate it.

The crux of my argument is that it’s morally incoherent for Altman and Graham to argue that Trump is an existential threat to American democracy, while continuing to collaborate with one of his most influential backers.

I feel this stance requires an explanation. Before people like David Hannemeier-Hansson started beating the drum for it, YC would not even acknowledge that Thiel was still a partner, or that this relationship was in any way problematic.

I would urge you to look not just at Altman’s words, but at what we’re actually asking him to do.

22. Scott Says:

Maciej #21: I confess that I don’t understand why the facts you raise are material.

Firstly, what does it matter whether Thiel is a business partner or an employee? Once the principle has been established that a company should terminate its relationship with an individual over the latter’s supporting the wrong presidential nominee, that principle is sure to be applied against causes that you or I believe in.

Secondly, if you’re not going to tolerate someone speaking or donating money in a way that’s consistent with what they believe, then why even tolerate their holding the beliefs in the first place? After all, as DO #17 pointed out, someone who’s private about their abhorrent beliefs might simply be playing a “long game,” waiting for the right opportunity to cause harm.

23. Steven Says:

It’s not that Trump’s Big Lie isn’t plainly visible. It’s just that Clinton’s is equally out there, only her manipulation of the public, press and polity is more insidious. Her globalist agenda is established, her role in suppressing gray tribe manifestations of enlightenment ideals well known. For instance, it is utterly mindboggling how quickly history has been rewritten with regards to WikiLeaks: their history of slow and responsible disclosure rewritten by the same press they used to reach out to and collaborate with.

Somehow, she gets to be the lesser evil just by playing the same old progressive buzzword bingo: misogyny, racism, empathy, and so on. Good versus evil, with approved victim and oppressor categories, and only favorable statistics and correlations allowed. Her stated policy is taken at face value, despite obvious corruption and being the sequel to a democratic candidate who campaigned on change but continued the imperialist reach all the same.

The dichotomy is false, and it rings hollow to appeal to reason while continuing to claim one of the two lizards must be the non-evil one, because their flag has the right color and the other side scares us. This US election, more than ever, has consumed the entire western world. Even those outside are forced to declare their allegiance and couch their opinions in disclaimers, to condemn and to deplore, to virtue signal about virtual signalling, and so on.

I refuse. Reason should trump the Clinton in all of us _too_.

24. Dan Richardson Says:

Just to even up a bit the discussion here: Trump is a legitimate candidate, and personally I support him as the Republican candidate, over the Democratic candidate.

I have yet to hear a conclusive, honest and logical argument against Trump’s presidency. All (or at least most) I hear is ad hominem attacks from self proclaimed liberals.

Why do I support Trump? Because I reject Obama’s legacy, and thus Hillary’s future policies viz a viz illegal immigration, appeasement of radical Islam and other post-colonial aspects of their foreign affairs policy. This is why I came to the rational conclusion that Trump will represent my values and interests better than Clinton.

See what I’ve done here!? I have argued in favor of one candidate, without shaming the supporters of the other candidates as “deplorable”, without ridiculing the other opponent, without claiming the other opponent is “illegitimate”, “unqualified”, “too stupid”, a “sexual harasser”, etc. Without even stipulating that it is “evident that every decent person should vote for my candidate!”. I really gave an argument, or at least a sentence purporting to explain why I support one candidate over the other.

I remember Scott’s last post about the elections, where one Clinton supporter was attempting to engage in a “serious” discussion about the candidates, but eventually even this guy could not overcome his urge to conclude every argument with irrelevant smug ad hominem attacks, before giving up completely on the discussion.

25. Giorgio Castriota Scanderbeg Says:

Going directly to the heart of the problem, what happens to a person thought as the worst man in the world when we discover he hide some really exceptional virtues (or viceversa)? Suppose a bloodiest dictator in the world (fill it at your pleasure: I choose Pol Pot). At a point we discover he has proved the “Riemann Conjecture” and hide it (in my new novel plot this is the really reason why Pol Pot decided to unalfabetize his people: because the real means of the proved conjecture is…nothingness or that is better acquire information from Not-knowledge than Knowledge, but ok that’s another story). So now, is this a reason to reify him? How is it possible accept him as a real genius of math and contestually as the bloodiest man of the world? To wash our soul we have to set up a new paradigm: that a person is a 2-(3, 4…schizo)-fold and then we decide to speak only with the good side of that person? Probably is this mechanism already operating when we decide to relate each other? I want to meet you if you show me your 3-edge so I show you my 4-edge and we enjoy each other? (In my subplot novel on Pol Pot all the men are graph-like and because of their random walks emerge a behaviour that prove P=NP, but that’s another story). Or we have a mono-man concept and lower and raise some “conceptual” degree to attribute to him? ( Remember that all your answers will be part of a sub-sub-meta plot of my Pol Pot novel).

26. Cerastes Says:

Maciej #21: You dp realize that you could use literally those exact same arguments, from a conservative Christian viewpoint, to justify firing someone (from a non-religious firm) because they’re gay, or even just supportive of gay rights? Plenty of folks from that viewpoint see gay rights or even the existence of homosexuality as every bit as apocalyptic as we see a Trump candidacy, and in their case, they can use the word “Apocalypse” literally and capitalize it. “How can you continue to have a business association with a known homosexual, who actively funds efforts to destroy the foundation of civilization, who publicly advocates abominable acts?”

IME, one of the arguments that drives home the benefits of the Enlightenment ideals is the simple and prosaic concern of what happens when your side isn’t the one in power, when those you most disagree with turn these same policies on you? You may think you’re right, so that justifies it, but they think exactly the same thing. Either we all agree that you don’t fire people for their personal, political views, or we just accept that we can be fired for our views too if the culture shifts or even if the company just gets bought by someone with different views. Personally, I prefer the former.

27. Nilima Nigam Says:

#11
It certainly sounds horrifying that ‘millions of convicted felons and illegal immigrants’ could be voting.

To add a smidgen of nuance to this: if your concern is that millions of illegal immigrants are voting, then the very premise of the robustness of your electoral system is in doubt. This is a serious allegation, and would warrant serious evidence that this is indeed happening, and on the scale being claimed. Absent the evidence, perhaps actions based on this premise are premature.
If a single chipmunk chewed the wiring on an electronic voting booth, you could certainly assert it was a problem. You should probably not assert it was a serious enough problem to call the entire election into question.

re felony disenfranchisement: I know it sounds dramatic, and gives rise to the vision of millions of bad hombres in stripes marching to the voting booths. But again, some nuance may be in order.

States have always taken their own approaches to how felons may vote after their term has been served. This is not new. Maine and Vermont allow convicted felons who are serving their time to vote, and many states (19?) allow people with felony convictions who have served their time/parole to vote. Florida made it easier for them to regain their vote, then rescinded this. It’s up to individual states to decide what to do with citizens who have served their time for convictions – and yes, they are still citizens unless a felony conviction comes with a stripping of citizenship.

It is also worth asking oneself whether all felonies should warrant a life-time barring of the right to vote. Property crimes are felonies, as are certain violent crimes. Forgery and counterfeiting are felonies. The threshold for what turns a property crime into a felony is rather low, and variable. In some states, a property crime causing more than $500 worth of damage is a felony. Routine idiotic-young-people-pranks-and-dares, committed in a wealthy neighbourhood, could technically qualify. Are you truly claiming that someone who stole the hubcaps off an expensive car should never be allowed to vote again? 28. Maciej Ceglowski Says: Scott #22: I believe the distinction matters because of the power relationship it implies. Talking about ‘firing’ someone is emotionally loaded and implies that the entity doing the firing has power over the employee. This doesn’t characterize Thiel’s role at YC, let alone Facebook. To your second point, do you think there is any line beyond which a political stance would become intolerable because it threatens the whole framework within which pluralism and dissent can exist? Or is drawing such a line anywhere unconsionable? In other words, is there anything Thiel could do to make severing a business relationship with him justifiable on moral grounds? Altman has stated that if Thiel repeated some of the statements Trump has, he would sever his working relationship with Thiel. So he seems to agree with me that there is behavior that is “over the line”. Let me finish by saying I am a longtime admirer of your work, and have the utmost respect for your intellectual honesty. It pains me that our first interaction has to be an argument over Thiel’s role, but I’m interested in better understanding why we disagree so profoundly. 29. jonathan Says: I’m a little confused about why Thiel’s startup evaluation module didn’t turn him off Trump, though. As I see it, evaluating startups is about assessing a person and an idea when you aren’t an expert in that particular market. This is quite similar to evaluating presidential candidates. Most of us aren’t experts in policy, but we can get an idea about the candidates by assessing them personally, and listening to their ideas to see if they seem to make sense. In my view, setting aside the racism and particular policy positions (I know, I know), it’s clear that Trump is mostly BSing when he talks about what he would do as president. He has at best a very shallow understanding of the issues, and his solutions are little more than bluster and unrealistic soundbites. So my surprise that Thiel supports Trump is not rooted in Trump’s offensiveness or ideology, but simply that Thiel presumably has a brain geared towards evaluating competence of leaders and plans, and Trump seems (in my view) to fail on this metric…big league. 30. martinw Says: Buck #4: it may be too early to talk of a witchhunt against Altman personally, but at least one influential Silicon Valley personality (Ellen Pao) has already announced in an open letter that she will stop cooperating with Y Combinator until they get rid of Thiel: https://medium.com/projectinclude/peter-thiel-yc-and-hard-decisions-2b91bab83764#.axh3gd7qy So it’s not just some random shitty journalist, and it’s not just expressions of disapproval. 31. martinw Says: The other Scott A (no, not Adams, the *other* other Scott A) wrote an interesting post a while ago on what’s wrong with this kind of boycott: its success depends not on the badness of the person or idea being boycotted, but on the size and power of the side doing the boycotting. So if you’re in favor of boycotts and firings as a way to settle disputes, you had better be very confident that your side will always be the strongest. http://slatestarcodex.com/2013/12/29/the-spirit-of-the-first-amendment/ “A good response to an argument is one that addresses an idea; a bad argument is one that silences it. If you try to address an idea, your success depends on how good the idea is; if you try to silence it, your success depends on how powerful you are and how many pitchforks and torches you can provide on short notice.” 32. Michael P Says: Unfortunately, this is not the first time vociferous righteous left wing bullies harassed somebody out for the refusal to illegally support their extreme position: https://www.algemeiner.com/2016/09/01/former-ucla-student-president-milan-chatterjee-university-administration-has-set-dangerous-precedent-by-capitulating-to-bds-movement-interview/ 33. Dissenting Opinion Says: Scott #20: Agreed re rule of law, liberal democracy, personal suspicions, etc. I didn’t express myself well – I don’t know or care what hidden long-term goals Thiel has; only his words and actions to date. FWIW, your post was the first thing which caused me to reconsider my opinion, because you’ve historically been a very sound barometer on such issues. But I still can’t reconcile “Voldemort represents a unique threat to democracy”, “We will not do business with Voldemort, because principles”, “But we will do business with his inner circle, billionaire financial backers, because principles” as self-consistent. 34. Matt Henderson Says: ATD #17 wrote, “The Left has become extremely cult-like, and devoid of empathy. If you disagree with them, they condemn you as morally inferior.” This is what I find shockingly concerning, as well. Maciej retweeted my simple question this morning of whether what started as the calling out of hypocrisy may have snowballed into a public, pile-on case of cyberbullying, demanding a disassociation. While Maciej himself seemed willing to objectively consider such a question, within an hour, I was receiving mouth-foaming accusations from his followers of siding with ethnic cleansing. In such a polarized environment, it’s impossible to even ask questions, try to understand positions that may be more complex than they appear on the surface, and to simply have civil discourse. And that’s really, really sad. 35. infosample Says: 1) We all agree firing an employee over politics is wrong. 2) Graham/Altman say Thiel is basically an employee and ending the part-time partnership is basically firing him. We should take their word. 3) If Trump is as bad as Graham/Altman describe, Thiel actually isn’t an employee, and smart/rich guys with great lawyers couldn’t figure out how to distance themselves, it will look bad. But “if” arguments are weak. There is disagreement over how bad Trump is, time will tell. In the meantime, from a PR standpoint, I think Y Combinator didn’t handle this well. Keeping Thiel on board didn’t cause this outrage, Atman’s explanation and Graham’s Twitter arguments did. I wonder if Atman/Graham had stayed silent for three more weeks until the election is over, would this have blown over. I also wonder how hard they fought to keep Project Include as a partner. 36. fred Says: Well, the good news is that in 4 weeks all this will seem like history and most of us will move on and forget about it. But the bad news is that in 4 years it will be the same situation, just 10 times worse. 37. PG Says: I think there is a larger issues here, an issue that involves the larger issues of this blog. It is all about the nature of truth. The “freedom of speech” has nothing to do with being “free to speak”. It isn’t about the freedom of the individual, it is about the limitations that are put on the state. The fundamental concept is that the state is not allowed to define what the truth is. This is a hugely important and historically unprecedented statement. The state can limit your speech to the extent that the state can define what is true, and therefore prevent falsehoods from being said. The “Liberal” idea isn’t that you can say anything, but that the state is not in the business of defining what the truth is. The inherent statement is that no one knows what the truth is. The conclusion is that we have to organize ourselves into a society where we all recognize that fact. First of all the state can not define the truth. But beyond that, we can’t set ourselves up as mini-fiefdoms with a claim on the what the truth is. The only thing you can say that is absolutely wrong is to say that you are absolutely right. The question is, is there any difference between politics and math? That is, are they just both stages for people to claim they have the truth, or are they stages for us to figure out something that works? The actors in any current political battle both claim they have the truth. The problem is that you can’t have mutually contradictory truths. Is math any better? Is math a statement of truth? Like it or not, they are both human activities, and both have human fingerprints all over them. Person X is wrong, and should be censured, because he says he has the truth, whereas in fact I have the truth. Do people act that way because people are screwed up, or because that is the way the universe is? The “Liberal” concept is that human organization is not possible as long as any group within it thinks they have the truth. Open question: Does math agree with this? The Right has no doctrine besides anti-intellectualism. The Left has no other doctrine besides the fact that they are so clever they have to be right. They are both absolutely certain about their positions. 38. lylebot Says: Easy for you to say, you aren’t personally affected by Thiel’s apparent biases. Look at it this way. Trump has made his various biases against groups of people very clear. Thiel has made his support of Trump very clear. By the transitive property, it is perfectly fair for someone in one of those groups to assume Thiel shares Trump’s biases. And it is hardly a stretch to imagine that if YC keeps him on as a partner, he and his biases may have an effect on how YC treats their startup. That you aren’t affected by this is precisely what it means to be “privileged”. Let me ask you this. Were there any women or underrepresented minorities at that thing he funded in France? 39. Doug K Says: as I understand Maciej’s position the idea is for Altman to publicly repudiate Thiel for his support of Trump. This does not necessitate cutting off business relations. In any case there seems to me a great deal of difference between a business partner and an employee. The power relationship is quite different. An employee depends on their salary/wages for support. A business partner like Thiel, with Thiel’s money and relationships, is independent. Altman is right that Trump is an existential threat to US democracy. These are not normal times and this is not a normal politician. His position has been explicitly fascist from the beginning. http://www.theatlantic.com/notes/2016/09/trump-time-capsule-108-bush-fahrenthold-kagan/500894/ Although he said he’d be willing to support Hillary once elected in the first debate, “If she wins, I will absolutely support her.” he walked that back within a couple of hours, and contradicted himself in the third debate. Here Altman displays a negative capability worthy of a great poet – “when man is capable of being in uncertainties. Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” Poetry however makes nothing happen, while Altman is in a position of power where he can make things happen. There should be some responsibility associated with this. 40. anon Says: Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Rhetoric aside, the stench of moral vanity here is quite deplorable no matter the political bent. 41. Anon Female Says: Scott, Have you ever been sexually harassed or been subject to sexual comments by a boss or coworker in which you were clearly being measured by your sexual attractiveness and not your scientific ability? I have, multiple times, and so have many other women in STEM fields in academia and tech companies. Even so much as a leer or sexual comment by a male coworker, supervisor, or professor is a danger sign to women telling them that they may not be safe physically, that their intellectual abilities are worthless to men, and that they may have no real future in that company or academic department. When Thiel doubled-down and gave$1.25 Million to Trump’s campaign, Thiel was signaling to every man in Silicon Valley and the tech industry that you can keep harassing women, and he’ll have your back. Not only that, but he’ll fund you to be in positions of power, whether it’s in Washington D.C. or a startup company C-suite, where you will be free to make policies that make it difficult or impossible for women to exist, much less succeed, in STEM.

This means that all the K-12 STEM programs for girls, all the lean-in movements don’t matter, because when you finally try to get or keep that science or engineering job after years and years of hard work and study, your reward will be to work in a field where you will constantly have to fight men’s perceptions of you as nothing but a sex object: “Nasty woman”, “Not a 10”.

That’s just the beginning. Y Combinator is a type of educational institution, and by supporting Thiel in the sickeningly co-opted name of “diversity,” Altman and others are instilling the value into new startup founders that it’s OK to have both kinds of men: nice guys and sexual predators! See, that’s what we call diversity! Sorry, women! Do we want to see Y Combinator create tens, hundreds, or thousands of companies with those values?

You need to see this for the real physical, as well as emotional and economic, threat that Thiel’s support for Trump (and by extension Thiel’s fanboys) is for women and other (non white male) minority groups in STEM. It’s not an abstract concept when you find yourself afraid to be alone with male colleagues in the workplace or afraid for your ability to keep a roof over your head. All the “Lean In” books in the world won’t help you there.

42. Alexander Kruel Says:

How many people who care about existential risks have any influence over the Republican party, or the Trump clan in particular? Thiel cares about existential risks. So maybe he thought that the influence he gains over a possible president Trump would outweigh the damage of supporting Trump.

43. Another Trump Democrat Says:

@Nilima Nigam#11
Oh come on, the Quid Pro Quo is completely obvious, plain as day. Hey illegal immigrants, we’ll give you citizenship (and access to hundreds of thousands of dollars each in benefits, hence trillions of dollars in aggregate), so you give us your vote. It is future election rigging on a gigantic scale, buying millions of votes for trillions of dollars.

44. Another Trump Democrat Says:

I meant @Nilima Nigam#27

45. quax Says:

PG #37:

“The inherent statement is that no one knows what the truth is. The conclusion is that we have to organize ourselves into a society where we all recognize that fact.”

It is much easier to establish what is a definite untruth. And in most countries there are laws that allow to fight those if they affect individuals or businesses.

To me your perception seems to be very US centric. I am not aware of any other Western country that puts so few limits on free speech.

46. JimV Says:

Dr. Aaronson, I am 90% in agreement with your position and the principles it is based on. I just have uneasiness with your (seeming) approval of a billionaire using the power of his money to bankrupt an organization due to legal fees with a lawsuit which as I understand it did not have a good legal basis. This seems to me to be a similar case to the proposed firing of said billionaire for his unsavory political views*.

It seems to me in both cases we need shed no tears over the result (hypothetical in the case of the firing) but should not approve of the means, due to principle.

* unsavory to me and I think to a majority of likely voters, but I will refrain from arguing with the Trump supporters who have commented here since it is off-topic and probably useless -except to say evidences of the bad character of a candidate are not ad hominem attacks, because good character is one of the attributes we desire in a candidate.

47. Joshua Zelinsky Says:

lylebot #38,

“Easy for you to say, you aren’t personally affected by Thiel’s apparent biases.

Look at it this way. Trump has made his various biases against groups of people very clear. Thiel has made his support of Trump very clear. By the transitive property, it is perfectly fair for someone in one of those groups to assume Thiel shares Trump’s biases. And it is hardly a stretch to imagine that if YC keeps him on as a partner, he and his biases may have an effect on how YC treats their startup.

That you aren’t affected by this is precisely what it means to be “privileged”.

Let me ask you this. Were there any women or underrepresented minorities at that thing he funded in France?”

First, let’s note that Scott is Jewish and Jews have been one of the groups that a lot of Trump supporters nasty harassment and rhetoric has been directed to.

Second, it isn’t at all fair to make any such assumption about Thiel. At most one can conclude that issues related to Trump’s attitudes about race and gender aren’t important to him as other issues. One can disagree with that, but that’s not the same thing at all.

48. Vitor Says:

Hi Scott,

> it can feel lonely to stick up for naïve, outdated values like the free exchange of ideas, friendly disagreement, the presumption of innocence, and the primacy of the individual over the tribe

Well, thank you for doing it regardless. Even though some people here have brought up good points against your argument (which have made me think on it a bit more), on the whole I am very much with you on this issue.

One thing that irks me especially is that many people seem to be unwilling to consider Thiel’s possible motives at all. I’m not from the US myself, but my impression is that many leftists are holding their noses to bring themselves to vote for Hillary, the lesser of two evils. Why wouldn’t it be reasonable to think that Thiel is doing the same? Supporting Trump despite, not because of, his sexism, misogyny etc?

49. Anatoly Says:

Maciej #28,

Given the tone of your recent twitter posts, it’s strange to see you reject “fired” as “emotionally loaded”. Level-headed, dispassionate discourse doesn’t seem like the effect you’ve been going for.

Brendan Eich wasn’t even fired, he stepped down voluntarily when it became clear Mozilla wouldn’t stand behind his appointment. And just as you’re saying “it isn’t like firing” about Thiel now, the denouncers of Eich were saying “it isn’t like firing” back then: CEO is not a normal job, the CEO represents the company, any other role would’ve been a different matter etc. etc.

Re: your second point, again, exactly this kind of argument – “but is there a line? But what if he was stumping for David Duke?” – played out in the Eich affair; the same kind of argument plays out every time. “What if he made a donation to the KKK?”

Though I haven’t talked to you much, besides some translation-related exchanges on LiveJournal an era ago, I’ve admired your writings for a long time, and it’s dismaying to see you taking a leading role in this new flare-up of the shaming game. I wish you’d reconsider (and yes, I’m 100% anti-Trump, and had a mildly negative opinion of Thiel before this blew up).

50. mike Says:

“I am not aware of any other Western country that puts so few limits on free speech.”

With Trump we get a glimpse of how fragile our social compact is depending on what we believe and how we act on those beliefs. I hope we are able to continue to error on the side of freedom and democracy.

51. Jair Says:

Dan #24:

An ad hominem attack is when you attack the merits of the person you are debating rather than the issue at hand. If Trump was calmly arguing, debate-team style, against the Trans-Pacific Partnership for example, I agree that his stance on (say) whether the children of enemy combatants should be targeted, or whether women should be treated with some modicum of respect, might be irrelevant. Unfortunately, the issue is hand is not the TPP, but rather the question of who is better fit to be President of the United States. As such, “ad hominem” arguments against the character and the qualifications of the candidates are anything but. They are entirely relevant to the question at hand.

I also think that the current state of mind of many on the left – that anyone in the same connected component of your opponent should be collectively shamed – is sad and myopic.

52. fred Says:

lylebot #38

“By the transitive property, it is perfectly fair for someone in one of those groups to assume Thiel shares Trump’s biases.”

That’s only an assumption though.
Plenty of people support Trump because of his views on the economy, and the rest of Trump’s personality is a poison pill worth taking.
For them nothing will matter if the economy isn’t fixed asap in a radical way. It’s much easier for everyone to get along when everyone has a job and a future…

53. Sniffnoy Says:

Jair: Indeed. The ad hominem fallacy is specifically trying to use personal attacks to dismiss someone’s claims or arguments, not for other purposes. Someone’s character absolutely does inform on their ability to execute the office of president. Stephen Bond wrote a good piece on what does and does not constitute the ad hominem fallacy: http://web.archive.org/web/20140326174353/http://plover.net/~bonds/adhominem.html

54. Gilbert B Says:

First, let me say to Scott and for anyone else, I don’t think most of the things mobs do are good—though I likely disagree with you about what constitutes the bounds of an online mob and reasonable critique. Regardless of that broader question, Marcotte was completely unfair and unkind to you; I’m sorry I didn’t say so more publicly at that time. [end aside]

If you bring up the $amount contributed in defense of Sam (10-50K?) it’s weird to not mention Thiel’s >$1M contribution. That’s 20x more money for reference. If you believe in campaign finance reform, it’s almost certainly above whatever limit you would set. Also relevant is that this enormous contribution was the news item that directly precipitated the current calls for YC to cut ties.

Your (Scott A’s) argument relies on treating 1Million campaign contribution as equivalent to speech, which is all but an explicit endorsement of Citizens United. Perhaps, you oppose the ruling but respect it as the current state of the law. Fine. But then why should that ruling govern democratic or enlightenment norms? Don’t those norms precede or at least sit adjacent to the law? Shouldn’t we consider a donation of that size as more-than-speech? If the issue is truly one of principle, and not just reticence to take a political stand, here is a clear principled ground from which to criticize Sam. Additionally, since civil and democratic norms are being invoked here, I think it’s important to seriously consider the degree to which the Trump campaign has undermined those norms. How does excusing his behavior as essentially childish or buffoonery do anything to re-assert those norms? Worse, can Thiel’s support be written off as foolish or ill-considered? Or is it entirely correct to presume Thiel believes in white supremacy, patriarchy, and other bigoted ideologies? His political past seems to support those inferences. 55. Gilbert B Says: Sorry, one addition. I think it’s worth asking (1) are there moral issues in doing business with fascists & (2) is Peter Thiel a fascist? Reasonable people might answer yes to both questions, even if you might choose not to. Those people—I’m happy to include myself—are reasonably acting in defense of the democratic principles we all value. In this view, criticizing Sam for supporting a fascist financier is a necessary defense of democracy. 56. Sandro Says: It sort of flabbergasts me when social-justice activists don’t understand that, if we condemn not only Trump, not only his supporters, but even vociferous Trump opponents who associate with Trump supporters (!), all we’ll do is to feed the narrative that got Trumpism as far as it has—namely, that of a smug, bubble-encased, virtue-signalling leftist elite subject to runaway political correctness spirals. The deliciously sad irony is that many of these same people decry something like Randian Objectivism as a cult for its rabid fanaticism to adhere to some pure ideals, complete with excommunication for those seen to even slightly qquestion dogma. It boggles. 57. Joshua Zelinsky Says: Gilbert #55 “Sorry, one addition. I think it’s worth asking (1) are there moral issues in doing business with fascists & (2) is Peter Thiel a fascist? Reasonable people might answer yes to both questions, even if you might choose not to.” There’s really no way to call Thiel a fascist unless one a) doesn’t know much about his politics or b) is using fascist to mean something like “disagrees with my politics.” 58. ScottO Says: Anon Female has it exactly right. Everyone else needs to stop whining that “civil disagreement” has been lost. It is claiming persecution when actually the argument is more complex than you are making it. You argue against a straw man to go from “you are privileged to be able to allow Trump supporters free reign” to “obviously you don’t like intellectual discourse.” To fanboy over “a mind of his caliber” is in utter poor taste. No one in the right mind, however, is saying you don’t have the right to an opinion, we are saying that your opinion should be a better one. And, a “free open exchange of ideas” implies you carry a prior that everyone has equal ability and access to do so. It is the uninformed prior, which you have no reason to take in a society as unequal as ours. So what to you looks like valid, nuanced intellectual discourse is, when you adjust, actually disadvantaging others. You are silencing the people actually hurt by monsters like Trump and co. 59. Scott Says: Everyone: Sorry for the delay in answering questions! I’m at Rice University today to give a CS colloquium, and they’ve packed the entire day with interesting meat-people to have meat-conversations with. I’ll reply to most of this stuff tonight. For now, though, I’ll just take the factual question of lylebot #38: Were there any women or underrepresented minorities at that thing he funded in France? As it happens, there were lots of women there. Unexpectedly, one of the people I hit it off with the most there was the poet, essayist, and memoirist Mary Karr—coming at it from completely different perspectives, she and I had developed an equal amount of contempt for postmodern obscurantism! 🙂 There were people from various nationalities there, but I don’t specifically remember if there were African-Americans or Hispanics. More to the point: is there evidence that Thiel, who of course is a minority (i.e., gay) himself, discriminated against women or minorities at any point in his career (in the companies he’s funded or whatever)? 60. Scott Says: David Karger #12: I agree with you about Altman. But that’s the easy part. Harder is the question of whether Altman made the right decision about Thiel? The point of this post was to argue that yes, he did! 61. Scott Says: Giorgio #25: Going directly to the heart of the problem, what happens to a person thought as the worst man in the world when we discover he hide some really exceptional virtues (or viceversa)? Suppose a bloodiest dictator in the world (fill it at your pleasure: I choose Pol Pot). At a point we discover he has proved the “Riemann Conjecture”… In such a case, why not simply say: Pol Pot proved the Riemann Hypothesis, and is also a monster who murdered millions? So let mathematicians study and understand the proof, and let the world prevent such a crime from ever happening again. While not quite as extreme, there have been similar cases in history. E.g., the mathematicians Teichmuller and Bieberbach were enthusiastic Nazis. To which my response is simply: give them the place they earned in the history of mathematics, while also mentioning their Nazism at every possible opportunity. 62. wolfgang Says: >> I lost a lot of respect for Thiel that day from my perspective there are a handful of people who still believe that the truth will set us free and that have risked their comfort and well being to inform us about the state of this world … … Ed Snowden, Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange are the most well known heroes in this group. The way the current US administration is treating them makes me sick and recently we learned how Hillary wants to shoot the messenger. So let me just use this opportunity to emphasize that I lost a lot of respect for people who are still endorsing Hillary after what we learned in recent days. I can accept that somebody wants to vote for her as the lesser evil – but evil she is. Obviously I think it is great that you support Sam Altman. 63. Ed McCardell Says: Scott #22: “terminating a relationship” is a much too general phrase; it can describe all sorts of things (in particular, “firing an employee”) that don’t really bear on this case. Sam Altman described Thiel’s role as an occasional advisor without voting rights or equity; Thiel gets access to advise certain YC companies and YC gets to list him as a part-time partner; so a better phrase to describe what is being asked for is “ending a co-branding endorsement.”** I had more to say, but in case you don’t think there is a material difference between “two billionaires agree not to appear on each others’ business cards” and all the other ways that relationships can be terminated, then my arguments probably won’t carry much weight. ** “Co-branding endorsement” is not my own phrase; I think I saw it either on Twitter or Hacker News. 64. Aaron Says: Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Of course it is, if you would expect evidence, which is almost always. The correct version of the statement quoted is “Absence of proof is not proof of absence.”, which is far weaker. 65. TheMoneyIllusion » America’s Cultural Revolution: Six degrees of separation from insanity Says: […] writing this post I discovered a Scott Aaronson post with a similar theme. Needless to say his is 10 times better, and is the one to read if you […] 66. Scott Says: Maciej #28: Thanks for your interesting comments. Talking about ‘firing’ someone is emotionally loaded and implies that the entity doing the firing has power over the employee. This doesn’t characterize Thiel’s role at YC, let alone Facebook. Sorry, but I categorically reject attempted redefinitions of standard words according to which party is judged to have “power” (as in: “only white people can be racist, because racism = prejudice + power”). Such redefinitions beg the question: who decides who does and doesn’t have “power,” and relative to what baseline? When a female boss fires a male underling, should we feel less sorry for him because, y’know, at least he still has patriarchal power? Or more pointedly, and not at all hypothetically: is antisemitism maybe not quite as bad as other forms of prejudice, because Jews have so much wealth and power anyway? Whoever gets to decide the answers to such questions, would seem to have … well, a pretty powerful position! 😉 To your second point, do you think there is any line beyond which a political stance would become intolerable because it threatens the whole framework within which pluralism and dissent can exist? Or is drawing such a line anywhere unconsionable? In other words, is there anything Thiel could do to make severing a business relationship with him justifiable on moral grounds? The answer is certainly yes. Indeed, as you pointed out, Altman acknowledged that Thiel saying some of the same things Trump has said, really would be grounds for firing Thiel (and I agree with Altman there). But to me, a central value of the Enlightenment is acknowledging the possibility of honest error any time we can. E.g., a person might mistakenly believe that, yes, Trump has many faults, but Hillary’s corruption or secrecy or whatever presents an even greater danger to the republic. Presumably, you and I agree that such a person has their head up their rear end on this issue … but are they necessarily morally monstrous? Must they be shunned, even if they’re really smart in some field other than politics? 67. Scott Says: DO #33: But I still can’t reconcile “Voldemort represents a unique threat to democracy”, “We will not do business with Voldemort, because principles”, “But we will do business with his inner circle, billionaire financial backers, because principles” as self-consistent. Let’s compare the following for size: I’ll (obviously) never consider coauthoring a research paper with Josef Mengele, even if our research interests happen to align. I won’t even coauthor a paper with Werner Heisenberg, even though Heisenberg (unlike Mengele) is great scientist, and he swears up and down not to be an antisemite, just a guy who had other reasons for wanting to work for Hitler. But my friend, who fought on the Allied side, and later did coauthor a paper with Heisenberg, and strongly urges me and others to go ahead and coauthor with Heisenberg as well? Yeah, sure, I’ll coauthor with that guy (while continuing to disagree about Heisenberg). In each case, because principles. (Or to put this in the terms of lylebot #38: if a “transitive property” holds for human associations, then it’s subject to extremely rapid exponential attenuation.) 68. Scott Says: JimV #46: Dr. Aaronson, I am 90% in agreement with your position and the principles it is based on. I just have uneasiness with your (seeming) approval of a billionaire using the power of his money to bankrupt an organization due to legal fees with a lawsuit which as I understand it did not have a good legal basis. No, Gawker Media wasn’t bankrupted because of legal fees: rather, it was bankrupted because a jury actually found it guilty of violating Hogan’s privacy, and awarded Hogan140 million in damages. You could certainly argue that the damages were excessive, but from what little I know about the case, a guilty verdict seems reasonable to me.

69. Scott Says:

Gilbert #54:

Your (Scott A’s) argument relies on treating $1Million campaign contribution as equivalent to speech, which is all but an explicit endorsement of Citizens United. Perhaps, you oppose the ruling but respect it as the current state of the law. Fine. But then why should that ruling govern democratic or enlightenment norms? Don’t those norms precede or at least sit adjacent to the law? Shouldn’t we consider a donation of that size as more-than-speech? I do think Citizens United should be overturned, and I hope Hillary appoints justices who manage to do it. But to be honest, it’s lower on my priority list than it seems to be on most Democrats’. It strikes me that many people across the political spectrum, and even politicians and political operatives themselves, systematically overestimate the importance of money in politics, with this election being a particularly dramatic example. How much did all that super-PAC money help Cruz and Rubio? To me, Trump’s defeat of each and every “establishment” Republican illustrates that, far from being decided by rich old men in smoky back rooms, elections largely turn on a factor that’s infinitely more depressing and terrifying: namely, what voters want. 😉 As far as I’m concerned, Peter Thiel already completely debased himself as a “political thinker” when he spoke at the RNC convention. To write a check to the Trump campaign is not a new debasement, but simply a continuation of the previous one. 70. toScottAndMaciej Says: Scott, Maciej, I just wanted to request that in the spirit of Aumann’s Agreement Theorem, you keep discussing here until you reach a resolution. You both are clearly extremely smart, passionate, and honest people, and it’d bother me greatly if you couldn’t find an understanding. If you two can’t, then the rest of us surely have no hope — I say this by someone truly very conflicted and torn by the topic of this blog. 71. complete rando Says: I find the attempts to turn this dispute into a matter of Grand Ideals™ fascinating but overly complex for what seems like a fairly straightforward dispute: – Theil is a political activist and Trump financier. (Please refrain from characterising him just as a “supporter”.) – Altman believes Trump “represents a real threat to the safety of women, minorities, and immigrants”, amongst many other things. – Altman sees no conflict in partnering with a political activist and financier for a person and movement who, in his own words, is a “real threat to the safety” of millions of people, many of them vulnerable. – Others do, and wish Altman/YC would renounce their partnership. To suggest that Altman has a morally incoherent position seems straightforward to me. “Don’t do business with someone who is a political activist and financier of a figure you believe threatens the safety of others” hardly seems like a controversial position to take. However, if you choose to perceive the dispute as a matter of grand ideology, then I imagine whatever your ideological priorities are will determine how you see this conflict. For me, the personal safety of others trumps left/right/etc ideology. (Also, as an outsider it’s fascinating how intensely ideological these debates are in the US. The facts of the matter seem to take a back seat to ‘what it means’ in ideological terms, and what you can then say about dastardly ‘left-wingers’ or ‘conservatives’. The preoccupation with ideology is a sickness I hope the US recovers from–in some form–sooner rather than later.) 72. Michael Dalton Says: Scott, can you comment on these claims from Fujitsu? http://www.fujitsu.com/global/about/resources/news/press-releases/2016/1020-02.html . They say they have a 10000X speedup for combinatorial optimization using some kind of thermal annealer in FPGAs. 73. dsotm Says: While I agree with the main point of this post that Sam Altman should not be called or expected to resign over his decision not to disassociate YC from Thiel, It sounds like your experience of being (unfairly) targeted by the online sjw mob has created a legitimate fear but some misguided sympathy here. Thiel appears to be driven mainly by ego and desire for power in an almost cliche Nietzschean/Randian/Voldemortian way, nothing about him or his track record indicates that he is a friend of democracy* or the enlightenment** any more than Trump and in fact being far smarter and more competent than Trump he may very well present a greater actual threat to them in the not-far future – indeed, backing Trump is likely just an entry play into the political arena and it would be disappointing to learn that he himself is the sort of candidate you would endorse. * “Most importantly, I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.” ** Maybe of the dark kind ? – talks of silicon valley founders as Remus, Romulus and whatnot certainly sound in that vein. And in spite of Gawker being a lowlife publication that probably had it coming (though as much as I’m sure that Hulk Hogan’s feeling were hurt here, a 60M$ ’emotional distress’ damages are probably more than any non-celebrity not-backed-by-Thiel privacy violation victim will ever be awarded) it does very little to improve my opinion on Thiel and is likely to have chilling effects outweighing the public benefits – especially if my above prediction turns out to be correct.

That still-somewhat-respect you have for Thiel even in the face of him supporting Trump because SJW mob must not be allowed to bully people out of their jobs and he was awesome in person and showed interest and understanding in your field ? – Well, take that down a class and a sigma or two of IQ and you have a pretty good model of how some people feel about Trump in spite of (possibly) not actually being ok with unsolicited crotch-grabbing.

@Maciej – As much as I love @Pinboard and IdleWords, scanning the feeds of some of your twitter followers makes me wanna disregard all of the above and support Thiel/Trump for lifetime dictatorship, just saying.

74. Dissenting Opinion Says:

Scott #67: appreciate your taking the time to respond.

If (Allied veteran friend, Heisenberg, Hitler) = (Altman, Thiel, Trump), I entirely agree. Also agreed on exponential decay of transitivity. IMO the non-cooperation threshold should stop at a Trump number (a la Erdos number) of 1. If I read you right, that is your opinion as well – you’d publish with Allied friend, but not with Heisenberg, even at friend’s urging.

I felt terrible during your ordeal (and now I realize I should’ve taken the time to at least write an anon comment in support). I don’t support boycotting Sam/Paul or the two-minute hate they’re going through. I continue to be puzzled that they set their Trump number threshold at 0.

IMO the initial conversations with DHH/Maciej, while acrimonious, cannot be characterized as a witchhunt. IIRC Maciej even apologized when a bit of snark drew a hurt response from Sam. Of course it’s probably snowballed into troll heaven since then.

75. Ray Lopez Says:

Rambling incoherent essay that amounts to “I respect people who respect my worldview and disrespect those that don’t, at least somewhat”. Dude, you’re a tech guy, not a writer. Stick to your core competency or at least realize your limitations. Prune your thoughts. Like writing bad code with lots of indirection, polymorphism and “GOTO” statements.

76. complete rando Says:

ugh… “financier” -> “financial backer”. i’ll show myself out…

77. Richard J. Gaylord Says:

sam writes ” I don’t understand how 43% of the country supports Trump.”. the ‘reason’ (if you can even call it reason) is clear from the following statistic “Gallup poll: It found 42 percent of Americans believe God created humans “in their present form 10,000 years ago,” disputing scientific consensus that humanity slowly evolved from primates over millions of years.” one can’t expect irrational people to be rational.

78. Vitor Says:

#70: That’s not how Aumann’s agreement theorem works. Different values (“axioms”) allow for genuine disagreement to exist. I think that the most we can expect in real world situations is for two people to come to an agreement about what the “core” of their disagreement is.

79. Maciej Ceglowski Says:

Anatoly #49: I take your point about emotionally charged words. I’ve found myself getting angry on this topic, and that’s reflected in the things I said on Twitter. I would be interested in discussing with you by email to see if we can reach common ground, or at least understand each other better.

toScottAndMaciej #70: I would also very much like to persuade (or be persuaded by) Scott, but I need to do some thinking first. Right now we appear to have two camps of very smart people whose arguments are not connecting, though I believe we each understand what the other is arguing.

80. Scott Says:

Ray #75:

Dude, you’re a tech guy, not a writer. Stick to your core competency or at least realize your limitations. Prune your thoughts.

OK, thanks for your comments about my writing—I always strive to improve. And since we’re discussing Y Combinator, congratulations on reaching levels DH1 and DH2 (or rather, something adjacent to DH2) in Paul Graham’s disagreement hierarchy.

81. Scott Says:

dsotm #73:

indeed, backing Trump is likely just an entry play into the political arena and it would be disappointing to learn that [Thiel] himself is the sort of candidate you would endorse.

What could possibly make you imagine that I’d endorse Peter Thiel as a political candidate?

Even though it was only a minor part of your comment, that’s such a howlingly large error about my views that it might be an important clue for debugging the source of disagreement in these conversations, and thereby fulfilling the request of toScottandMaciej #70 for Aumannian resolution.

The world is not neatly divided into (1) idiots with zero positive qualities and (2) those I want in political power.

To take a simple example, Grisha Perelman is one of the world’s great mathematicians, but he wouldn’t make a good president, senator, or even alderman. For that matter, I wouldn’t make a good any of those things. My judgment and moral instincts would of course be unfailingly correct :-), but I’d be terrible at coalition-building, watching what I said, and all the other “implementation” aspects of effective leadership. Knowing that about myself, I don’t even want to be a departmental committee chair or anything similar, and vow to avoid such responsibilities for as long as I can.

With Peter Thiel, it’s almost the converse: he might actually be an effective leader (I’m not sure), but in any case I’d have profound disagreements with his values, and that being so, whatever effectiveness he had in office would just make him all the scarier from my standpoint.

But crucially, the fact that I wouldn’t support Thiel as a political candidate—or probably even support any candidates who he’d support—doesn’t mean I don’t want Thiel contributing to the world in other ways, for example by making prescient judgments about which startup ideas to fund.

In other words: I’m committed to seeing this tolerance and Enlightenment thing through to the end. 🙂

82. Dan Richardson Says:

Jair#51: “Unfortunately, the issue at hand is not the TPP, but rather the question of who is better fit to be President of the United States. As such, “ad hominem” arguments against the character and the qualifications of the candidates are anything but. They are entirely relevant to the question at hand.”

I believe you completely misunderstood the role of elections in democratic societies. It is not about “who is best fit to govern”. If it was about fitness we could do with a STOC/FOCS style election committee, or an editorial board, deciding who has the best qualifications.
Elections are about which set of values and interests I want to promote, and conversely, which of them I want to repress. I, for instance, want to promote conservative values and policies such as hawkish stance on national security and radical Islam issues, as well as illegal immigration. While my opponents want to promote globalism, free immigration, more appeasing stance towards radical Islam, etc. It has almost nothing to do with “fitness” of candidates.

83. Scott Says:

Anon Female #41 and ScottO #58: Thanks so much for contributing.

I saved your comments for last, since yours are the true heavy artillery, the ones whose unstated but clear implication is that I’m a privileged racist misogynist jerk if I don’t see things your way. And I know that I need to weigh my words extremely carefully, because the last time this artillery was wheeled out on me, I shared so much about my teenage experiences in an attempt to help me and my interlocutor recognize each other’s common humanity, that while she and I actually succeeded at that narrow goal (and are now friends), the subsequent fallout brought me to the brink (fortunately, only to the brink) of destroying my life. Hopefully I’ll do better this time! 🙂

Let me be as clear as possible. It’s not that I don’t understand the idea that many social-justice activists have been trying, with considerable success, to establish as the consensus of the educated world—namely, that there’s this huge swath of political views, even extremely mainstream ones in the US, that don’t deserve any of the usual social protections that classical Enlightenment liberalism would afford to individual conscience, because such views “cause already powerless and marginalized people to fear for their safety,” and are therefore themselves a danger to marginalized people, much as if the arguer had pulled a gun.

Rather, it’s that I do understand this idea, but that the idea itself makes me fear for my safety. I regard this idea as precisely the thing that Scott Alexander once called a rhetorical superweapon. And my own experience causes me to lack any baseline level of trust that this verbal thermonuclear bomb will be deployed only against targets who deserve it.

It’s probably easiest if I personalize the issue. As a Jew who lives his life in and around college campuses, I’m extremely used to the experience of “feeling silenced” and “fearing for my safety” whenever I pass by protesters who advocate for the nonexistence of the State of Israel, often bolstering their case with an endless loop of graphic videos of mangled Palestinian children (of course, never mangled Israeli children), in an attempt to evoke the same emotions evoked by the medieval blood libels.

For that matter, Paul Graham—the cofounder of Y Combinator, probably my favorite modern essayist, and a man who’s spectacularly, tightrope-walkingly correct more often than almost anyone on earth—has a Twitter account that’s filled with what I consider to be one-sided and ahistorical anti-Israel propaganda. In that, Graham joins a long list of brilliant people who I’ll probably never see eye-to-eye with on Israel, including Stephen Hawking, Alan Sokal, and in some of his moods Richard Dawkins.

Of course, in the category of “having a rational justification for fearing that people whose rhetoric makes you feel uncomfortable might actually do something bad to you,” Jews can go head-to-head against any population that’s ever existed on earth.

But here’s what I try never to do. I try never to make the mistake of imagining that my own feelings of fear and discomfort constitute an argument. I know that, when I pass by another BDS protest about Israelis being baby-murderers, I can either ignore the protesters or I can argue with them, but I have no business whatsoever telling them they should stop because they “make me feel marginalized and afraid for my safety” (even if they do). I recognize that, were the protesters right about the underlying issues, the urgency of their cause would override my feelings of safety, so it’s extremely relevant that I think they’re mostly not right. (Well, I’m a moderate leftist and peacenik by Israeli standards, which makes me pretty much a bloodthirsty monster by theirs…)

Nor would it even cross my mind that I shouldn’t associate with (say) Paul Graham or Stephen Hawking, much less that I should condemn other people for associating with them (!!), merely because I disagree with them about Israel. As it happens, my only interaction with either of those men was that I once exchanged friendly email with Graham about his masterpiece Why Nerds Are Unpopular, and Hawking attended my TEDx talk at Caltech and told me through an intermediary that he liked it. But I’d be totally thrilled to get to know either of them for real, should the opportunity arise.

In any case, it doesn’t escape my attention that this entire issue isn’t even on the radar of the rhetorical superweapon wielders. Does person A’s very presence at this company, or this conference, make person B feel silenced and marginalized as a Jew? As a traditionalist Christian? As a heterosexual male on the Aspergers spectrum? Not necessarily because of anything person A directly said or did, but just because of A’s failure to condemn person C, who in turn refused to cut ties with person D?

I’d encourage the superweapon wielders to reflect on all the excellent reasons why they don’t ask those questions, and then to apply the same reasons more broadly.

What I really want, though, is just for all sides to put down their rhetorical superweapons, and to stop developing and testing new ones. Either we can all get along, or if we must fight, we can limit ourselves to conventional artillery.

84. jonathan Says:

Scott, you’ve mentioned several times that you lost respect for Thiel based on his speech at the RNC. While I can understand objecting to his speaking at all (though I can’t see the difference between that and objecting to his supporting Trump in the first place), what did you find objectionable in the content of the speech?

Here is the transcript if you need to refresh your memory (autoplay video at the top, but the text is below):
http://time.com/4417679/republican-convention-peter-thiel-transcript/

While I’m very much opposed to actual Trump, I think that Thiel’s Trump sounds like a reasonable person to vote for. I also agree with nearly everything Thiel said in his speech about the state of our country and its priorities. The worst red meat I saw was a dig about Hillary’s speaking fees, which I don’t find objectionable at all, and is as much a Sanders jab as a Trump line.

85. jonathan Says:

@Dan Richardson 82:

I believe you completely misunderstood the role of elections in democratic societies. It is not about “who is best fit to govern”. If it was about fitness we could do with a STOC/FOCS style election committee, or an editorial board, deciding who has the best qualifications.
Elections are about which set of values and interests I want to promote, and conversely, which of them I want to repress.

Surely they are about both? Sure, competence and values are in conflict at times, in which case you must decide which to prioritize in that particular case. But I reject the notion that it is about one or the other alone.

To take an extreme case, surely you would prefer a highly qualified candidate who mostly aligns with your views to an utter incompetent who was epsilon closer to your views?

(Not to mention that Trump’s whole pitch is largely about his competence, i.e. “our leaders are incompetent, they’re so dumb, I can fix it” etc.)

86. Scott Says:

jonathan #84: You’re right, the thing that I objected to was not the central thrust of Thiel’s speech (namely, his concerns about American technological decline), but simply that, by appearing at the RNC at all, and by including those applause-lines about Hillary’s emails and speaking fees, Thiel appeared to endorse the rest of that demagogic convention, which I considered one of the low points of American history. It would one thing for Thiel to say: “yes, based on my iconoclastic worldview, I find Trump to be the lesser evil and will vote for him, but I’m not going to march in anybody else’s parade.” By appearing at the RNC, Thiel did choose to march in the parade. Having done so, donating to Trump was then just one more stretch of the parade route.

87. GruMpy Says:

” Indeed, as you pointed out, Altman acknowledged that Thiel saying some of the same things Trump has said, really would be grounds for firing Thiel (and I agree with Altman there).”

Also, this is uncharitable:
“But I also, I confess, oppose the forces that apparently see Trump less as a global calamity to be averted, than as a golden opportunity to take down anything they don’t like that’s ever been spotted within a thousand-mile radius of Trump Tower. (Where does this Kevin Bacon game end, anyway? Do “six degrees of Trump” suffice to contaminate you?)”

You yourself seem to be able to set a limit:
“I’ll (obviously) never consider coauthoring a research paper with Josef Mengele, even if our research interests happen to align.

I won’t even coauthor a paper with Werner Heisenberg, even though Heisenberg (unlike Mengele) is great scientist, and he swears up and down not to be an antisemite, just a guy who had other reasons for wanting to work for Hitler.

But my friend, who fought on the Allied side, and later did coauthor a paper with Heisenberg, and strongly urges me and others to go ahead and coauthor with Heisenberg as well? Yeah, sure, I’ll coauthor with that guy (while continuing to disagree about Heisenberg).

In each case, because principles.”

Maybe you could admit that others could too and not condemn preemptively an effort in a situation which is not so far away in transition steps. Indeed, in your comparison, why should we take Thiel to be closer to your friend than to Heisenberg? What is the equivalent for Thiel of having fought on the Allied side?

More precisely, what are the precise principles in your quote above that make the difference between the two situations so clear-cut?

88. mike Says:

Update should be October 20, not November, or am I missing something

89. Dan Richardson Says:

@jonathan,

First, the original commenter Jair claimed it’s ONLY about fitness. So I’m glad to see we both agree he is wrong.

Second, there is a very tiny aspect about fitness of candidates, in extreme cases. And due to Trump’s perceived eccentricity this tiny aspect is getting emphasized throughout this campaign.

But for most part, elections in democratic societies are not to judge the fitness of candidates, because the whole premise of democracy is that anyone can run for presidency/parliament and thus anyone is formally fit. The main role of elections is for people to exercise their right to *influence which values and interests* are going to be promoted.

Not only this, if a candidate, like Clinton, has opposing values to mine, then her supposed fitness/competence is in fact a bad sign. Because it means her values/interests are going to be promoted efficiently, going directly against my values/interests.

90. Scott Says:

mike #88: Sorry, fixed!

91. jonathan Says:

@Scott:

I am in complete agreement with you on this subject, and indeed strongly fear those who seek to force YC to sever ties with Trump. However, I’m still driven to analyze the case further.

You seemingly agree that, despite your strong adherence to the principle “you shouldn’t dissociate with people due to their political views”, there *are* political views so objectionable that you would dissociate (e.g. supporting Hitler).

Thus we must necessarily make a quantitative argument. Since you acknowledge there is a level of badness of political views (call it “Hitler-bad”) such that the principle of not dissociating based on political views can be set aside, it logically follows that you don’t think Trump is Hitler-bad.

A reasonable question is whether those who disagree with you do so because they disagree about Trump’s level of badness, or whether they disagree about where to set the “Hitler-bad” threshold.

92. Scott Says:

jonathan #91:

Since you acknowledge there is a level of badness of political views (call it “Hitler-bad”) such that the principle of not dissociating based on political views can be set aside, it logically follows that you don’t think Trump is Hitler-bad.

That’s correct, and I even said as much in my original anti-Trump post. People often forget just how vast a hellscape of badness there is below “Hitler-bad,” which then impoverishes their palette of denunciations.

A reasonable question is whether those who disagree with you do so because they disagree about Trump’s level of badness, or whether they disagree about where to set the “Hitler-bad” threshold.

A very good question, but one that they’d need to answer!

93. Blake Says:

Pretending a self-confessed sexual harasser isn’t a sexual harasser isn’t virtuous: it is purposefully-obtuse, a way to prioritize powerful men over the women they attack. There isn’t a neutral position where everyone is included; you are requiring others to give up their freedom in order to protect this man from the consequences of his actions.

94. Ray Lopez Says:

Scott Aaronson directs me to Paul Graham’s “How to Disagree”, which tries to classify disagreements, who makes this howler: “DH2 or lower response is always unconvincing”. But, in fact, DH1 responses, which are incorrectly called ‘ad hominem’ (“An ad hominem attack is not quite as weak as mere name-calling… For example, if a senator wrote an article saying senators’ salaries should be increased, one could respond: … .Of course he would say that. He’s a senator”) are, in the negation of this argument, called in law “admissions against interest” and are traditionally deemed so trustworthy that they are deemed exceptions to the hearsay rule. Google this. So essentially human evolution as embodied in Anglo-Saxon common law says that when somebody is a senator and says ‘Senators get paid too much, they should cut their salary’ that is deemed very credible, so much so that it’s admitted in legal testimony even if hearsay.

As for DH2, “responding to tone”, there’s a whole school of literary analysis that does nothing but that. And who the hell is the schmuck “Paul Graham”? Googling this… Egad, a computer programmer also operating outside his core competency. I’ve observed when coders grow old and less nimble, they become self-styled guru philosophers and/or get kicked upstairs into management…

95. CP Says:

Hi Scott –

As usual I really appreciate reading your take on things, and the exchange with Maciej. In this case, I think you are slightly wrong on one of your premises about why people are upset with sama.

Speaking for myself (to be more specific than ‘people’): I don’t have a problem with sama because he is associated with someone who is associated with Trump. And for the purposes of this argument (even though I disagree w/ it) I will accept your point that there is no difference between dismissing a partner and firing an employee.

In my view, this is largely a mess that sama, PG, and YC have created for themselves, by appearing to be hypocritical for the following reasons:

1) stating their commitment to diversity (i.e., more female and URM founders among the YC cohort), yet retaining/defending a senior, influential member of their organization who is working actively against those goals writ large. What reason do these founders – who, again, are being publicly recruited to / praised by sama/YC! – have to suspect that this is meant for real, as opposed to for PR, if one of the key advisors/mentors/employees/whatever you want to call it is working contra to them both in his political activism and personal statements (e.g. that extending the franchise to women undermined democracy)? If Thiel’s role (again, ignoring partner/employee distinction) is to advise and counsel founders, why would these founders have reason to trust him or believe that he is not actively trying to harm them?

(1a: I think it especially burns people from this community when sama said that retaining Thiel aided ‘intellectual diversity,’ which, to this community, reads as a cheapening of the idea of diversity. But before you blame SJWs for that, remember that it is *YC* that had subscribed to a particular social definition of what diversity is / looks like / why it matters, and that definition would not include retrograde neo-fascism as something that ought to be actively fostered).

2) Maciej made sort of this point, but I want to present it from a different angle: sama and PG both made public statements that Trump represented a unique threat to democracy. PG even tweeted that if Trump were elected he would “join the resistance.” Even if we accept that as Twitter hyperbole, the joke only works if you can at least contemplate that Trump would be worth some kind of civil war over. If he is truly that dangerous, then why are sama and PG not working against one of his key political and financial surrogates? Or — again — is this ‘just PR’, which reads publicly as hypocrisy?

***

A few ancillary points beyond these observations that much (not all) of the backlash was driven by a *perceived hypocrisy* rather than *guilt by association*:

3) I admire, and share, your commitments to the central tenets of classical liberalism and the enlightenment. But I think we need to recognize and reckon with the fact that these tenets have failed before, most notably (and Godwinly) during the Third Reich. Jurgen Habermas, among others, devoted his career to thinking about how the goals of democratic liberalism failed. Liberalism (in the classical sense) is vulnerable to fascism precisely because the latter doesn’t play by the former’s rules; that is why fascists (like Trump, and possibly Thiel) do in fact constitute a unique threat. Now, obviously the critique there is if we break the rules of liberalism to defend against the fascists then we are no better than the fascists themselves, which point is well taken and *precisely why* fascism is so dangerous. However, I would argue that it is also why fascism specifically must be strongly, strongly rebuffed within those rules. To me, it is within the rules of liberalism to imagine, behind the Rawlsian veil, that “I do not need to continue to employ someone who is working actively to exclude people from participating in democratic society,” and that Thiel, in both his personal views and support of Trump, meets that definition.
4) You made the following point:

>The answer is certainly yes. Indeed, as you pointed out, Altman acknowledged that Thiel saying some of the same things Trump has said, really would be grounds for firing Thiel (and I agree with Altman there).

I think Jillian York from the EFF came up with a helpful hypothetical here: what if Thiel were supporting (as a public surrogate and major donor) the KKK or the American Nazi party? Would that be enough to fire Thiel even if he hadn’t said/done those things? I’m interested in knowing your answer to this question because a) it seems important and b) I’m not sure what your answer would be.

Thanks.

96. wolfgang Says:

>> you don’t think Trump is Hitler-bad

Can I just point out the obvious in all this election hysteria?

As far as we know Trump has not caused directly or indirectly the death of a single person, probably in contrast to his oponent.

Of course, Adolf has caused the death of millions of people; so as long as you can separate fantasy (what you imagine Trump could do) from reality (what Adolf and others have actually done) this comparison is obviously absurd if not disgusting.

97. Scott Says:

GruMpy #87: The system I had in mind works something like this:

Mengele, Trump: morally repugnant, and blameworthy even to work with or abet them in any way. (Crucial clarification: this is not to suggest that Mengele and Trump are similar in any respects other than this one, or that their degrees of horribleness are in any way comparable!)

Heisenberg, Thiel: morally blameworthy, but a matter purely of personal conscience rather than moral duty whether you work with them or not.

Altman, my hypothetical Allied friend: not blameworthy at all.

If my moral intuition told me that any of the above classifications were even borderline, then I’d need to justify them by reference to a general principle, but it doesn’t.

I need to go give a talk now, but I might circle back to your other points later.

98. dsotm Says:

Scott #81

Sorry about the misconstruation, it was a hypothetical based on some previous writing of yours where you mentioned the possibility of supporting a moderate conservative leader if such one existed combined with the expectation that this is exactly the demographics that will (and rationally should) be targeted by Thiel or someone like him, combined with the prevalence of basic human susceptibility to kinda liking the bully who bullies your bullies.

Yeah Thiel is probably an asset to YC (though whether it extends to the world as a whole is highly debatable given his more successful picks so far), who is just another private venture capital firm in silicon valley albeit one with huge influence on both the perceived and the actual culture of the startup ecosystem worldwide, but that’s not accidental – they have strategically positioned themselves to be the public face of that culture freely venturing into social, cultural and political activism that aligns with their agenda, so as much as they are and should be free to associate with whomever they want this kind of public pressure is all but unexpected, Gizmodo of course does their part by being as rabble-with-pitchforks about it as possible but that too seems to be their self-appointed role.

99. Moldbug Says:

Maciej, I wonder if you’ve ever read a wonderful little book by a
fellow Pole, Czeslaw Milosz, called (in English) _The Captive
Mind_? Everything by Milosz is great, but this may be his most
important work. It’s a series of short essays in which he
catalogs four old literary friends of his (historically
identifiable individuals, whom he calls Alpha, Beta, Gamma and
Delta) who collaborated with Communism in the ’40s ’50s — when
Communism was really a going concern and wasn’t at all afraid to
whack a guy.

All these four were seduced by power, and ultimately destroyed by
power, each in his own way. Everyone has their own story they
Italian political scientist Gaetano Mosca called this narrative a
“political formula.”

In general, a political formula cannot really hold up in the
light of rigorous reason. It works emotionally. I cannot argue
with anyone’s emotions. But on a reasonable level, I think the
thing you miss here is two realities so simple that you can
easily be forgiven for ignoring them.

One, in the physical reality of the actual conflict, you’re
supporting the strong against the weak. Even in the world of
billionaires. Thiel is barely in the top 500 — there is only
one Thiel and very few piles of money that think like him. There
are a lot of piles of money that think like Soros, not to mention
that Soros himself has 10x the wallet of Thiel.

Moreover, the *real* cash is not even the fortunes of
billionaires present, but billionaires past, now having merged
into a giant octopus of completely unaccountable, tax-free,
self-sufficient nonprofit foundations. In modern terms the
Rockefellers, for instance, had something like a $500B fortune. There is a tiny set of trivial right-wing foundations. Half of the attempts to create one, like the MacArthur foundation, were actually just plain jacked. Money translates to headcount. For every human being employed in a position which only employs rightists, there are, what, 1000 — 10,000, even 100,000 — positions exclusive to leftists. So, as I said, in sheer objective reality this is a case of the strong against the weak — dissidents against the powers that be. I am the last person to argue that this inherently makes the dissidents right and the powers-that-be wrong. However, arguing on the side of power is very dangerous, because you are arguing on the side of your own natural desire. It’s like arguing that you’re smoking meth because it helps you finish your thesis. This may be true, but smoking meth is also fun, so a certain bias creeps in. It is easy to imagine a world in which no such pool of money at all can accrue around a dissident. Then there would be no headcount at all for dissidents. Demand in the marketplace of ideas would be even more uniform. It would conform to your own beliefs, and also the beliefs of power. Is this really what you want, though? I think the second error is much simpler. The error is to suppose that, when siding with power, it matters why you side with power. Perhaps you think that purging X person is totally right, whereas W was actually not a real enemy of the revolution and should not have been purged. The truth is that the actual achievement of purging anyone is not to establish elaborate distinctions under employment law, but to establish a simple principle: heretics must be purged from their professions. They must be fired If even the most prominent and powerful heretics can be purged, any little fish (a Greg Gopman, for instance), will be automatically purged. Over time, this becomes more and more habitual, and easier and easier. Eventually the Overton window just closes. Didn’t this happen to ancient Rome? Isn’t a closed Overton window, in fact, the historical norm? Power does not care at all why you support it. It only cares that you support it. It can’t read your mind, and why should it? If at a later date you change your mind about it, it will run you over the way it runs over everyone else. Please take this warning, if nothing else. 100. Daniel Seita Says: Thanks for posting about this; I was unaware of this news. I agree with you and Sam Altman but it’s sort of reluctant agreement, and follows mostly from knowing that people who disagree with me may also want to apply the same tactics on me later at some point in my life. 101. Scott Says: Blake #93: Pretending a self-confessed sexual harasser isn’t a sexual harasser isn’t virtuous No argument from these quarters about Trump’s horribleness, but who exactly was pretending that? Was Thiel? Do you have a quote? Also, do you consider the ~40% of the country that’s voting for Trump to be not merely wrong and misguided, but “guilty of aiding and abetting a self-confessed sexual harasser,” and for that reason, worthy of being fired from their jobs? 102. Scott Says: Ray #94: Banned from this blog, for resorting to gutter forms of disagreement (no matter what classification system you use). 103. mike Says: Scott & Ray: 😉 104. Douglas Knight Says: Scott 68, actually Gawker was bankrupted by (the threat of future) legal fees, not the Hogan judgement. You can tell this by looking at the timeline. Gawker responded to the (impending) Hogan judgement by raising funds. What caused it to be put up for sale was the revelation that Thiel was funding the suit and many others. 105. raj Says: Does SA really find himself in a social-political climate where he has to be so self-effacing and to perpetually walk on eggshells? If not, what is the purpose of repeatedly genuflecting to the “reactive SJWs” (that, in my university experience at least, don’t real – to the extent that they exist at all, they are far more reasonable than this would suggest)? I.e., referring to the post by Anon Female #43 as “heavy artillery” when it is a compelling but (here) noncontroversial appeal against T, but that is completely missing the point of the original post. Or, am I in my own bubble, and there actually are many people out there in the world who would seriously advocate for this supposed anti-T mania, with full on guilt-by-association ideological blackmail? And I’d like to add, while T is a untenable sexist bigot, consider that one might also seriously perceive H as a fundamentally corrupt pawn who will propagate the capitalist-imperialist-surveillance state (well, T is also fundamentally corrupt, and will also propagate the same)- but my point is, when all voters are forced to compare two very high-dimensional points according to their values, how can we ever be so sure as to demand blood when someone goes the other way? 106. Adelson Says: You say Mao was four degrees to the left. That Pol Pot was five degrees to the left. But Mao and Nixon became allies in the early 1970s. Also, after four years of accusing Pol Pot of everything under the sun from 1975 to 1979, Americans began arming Pol Pot and fighting for his Democratic Kampuchea government to retain its UN seat. It always puzzles me to hear Americans who accuse Pol Pot of genocide as if he were some foreign monster – the US was arming Pol Pot in the 1980s. 107. Flavio Botelho Says: Scott #83: I also believe in freedom of expression and that anyone should be able to hold whatever political beliefs they have. But even for someone as me that generally agrees with you on the issue, I have a hard time accepting your example as close to the situation at hand! The closer analogy IMO would protesters which are very angry and asking for many different policies each with varying levels of acceptation within that group, where a non-minority of the group is calling for the Jews to not have the right to vote… How scared would you be? 108. Moldbug Says: Sorry for the foul line breaks! 109. Another Trump Democrat Says: Trump has committed blaspheme against the cult of political correctness, infuriating its followers. But in reality he’s politically centrist with sensible reasonable policies. He certainly has some negatives, but Hillary’s are arguably as bad or worse in every category. All this over the top demonization of Trump is really just politics as usual. 110. Mitt Romney's Dog Says: Odd that someone with a background in computer science would be unable to recurse one level and understand that intolerance of intolerance isn’t intolerance. Or to parse turning ones back as “firing”. And now oh look: the inevitable avowed racist chimes in to insist that his moronic racist ideas deserves equal display space in the marketplace of ideas because hey, the idea of racism isn’t as powerful as it once was and isn’t that a shame that we all can’t just tolerate intolerance. It’s “diverse”, dontcha get it…. Really. Maybe Y Combinator and Facebook will want to “diversify” further by getting the avowed racist an advisory role. Sorry. Many of us don’t want to associate with people like Trump, Thiel, and the horrible ideas they and their followers espouse. Don’t blame us, blame THEIR stupid and harmful ideas. 111. Flavio Botelho Says: Better yet, what would you think if someone said ‘This country is such a bad state because Jews have been able to vote, they have derailed the country with bad political choices…’. What would you think? And that is not even Trump, that is Thiel himself talking about women… 112. Jair Says: Dan #89: I think you misunderstand me. When I say the issue is about who is ‘fit’ to be president, I don’t mean just competence and skill. Of course, I agree with Jonathan #85 that a candidate’s skill-set, personal traits, and positions on issues are all important. As such, discussion of a candidate’s character are relevant. Trump’s behavior and ideology are both loathsome to me, so it’s an easy choice. Scott #83: “I saved your comments for last, since yours are the true heavy artillery, the ones whose unstated but clear implication is that I’m a privileged racist misogynist jerk if I don’t see things your way.” This is a very uncharitable reading of Anon Female #41. 113. Elliot Temple Says: Scott #83: Paul Graham’s user-generated news site, Hacker News, is heavily controlled by moderation with an anti-semitic bias. http://curi.us/1612-anti-israel-bias-at-hacker-news 114. Jon K. Says: Scott, I almost agree with all your thoughts on this Thiel-Altman matter, although I liked the suggestion that you and Maciej spend some more time ironing out the details of where you disagree, until we get a satisfying result. Two open-minded, intelligent people ending a fruitful discussion by agreeing to disagree is like a soccer game going to penalties to decide a result; it’s just not a satisfying conclusion for the fans even if the participants are running out of energy. Settle it with an unlimited amount of extra time until a golden goal comes! 😉 115. Doug K Says: CP @95, thank you for point 3 – I had a similiar but clumsier version of that argument, now I need not post it. We have known since Cleon of Athens that demagogues can bring down a democracy. As Mark Banner observes in the NYRB, Trump in this light is a kind of ragged John the Baptist, preparing the way for a Pence or worse, a superficially plausible individual exploiting the same dark fears to rise to power. In my mind Trump is sufficiently dangerous that I am willing to compromise the Enlightenment principles that I share with Scott. Perhaps this is because like Maciej I grew up in a police state. To the question of power relations – for this specific case it seems to me as clear as it could possibly be. This is a spat between billionaires. Each of them has enough money and power to do much as they like for the rest of their mortal lives (possibly extended somewhat in Thiel’s case by the blood of young people). Neither can destroy the other, except perhaps by SLAPP lawsuits like the one Thiel deployed against Gawker. Scott’s point “I categorically reject attempted redefinitions of standard words according to which party is judged to have “power” ” does not seem to apply here. We are not attempting to construct a general theory of power relationships, only to point out that the relationship between employer and employee is not the same as the relationship between independent billionaires. 116. Daniel Freeman Says: @CP #95 >”I think Jillian York from the EFF came up with a helpful hypothetical here: what if Thiel were supporting (as a public surrogate and major donor) the KKK or the American Nazi party? Would that be enough to fire Thiel even if he hadn’t said/done those things? I’m interested in knowing your answer to this question because a) it seems important and b) I’m not sure what your answer would be. ” This probably isn’t the most effective analogy, because the American Nazi party and the KKK have essentially no political power. Probably more appropriate would be comparing this to if Peter Thiel had given$1.25 million to Hamas.

The actual point of contention here is disentangling the difference between [contributing to a [morally questionable platform]] and [moral culpability for what [morally questionable platform] actually perpetrates]. If you give Hamas $1.25 million dollars, and they immediately spend that money on rockets and blow up some settlements, I’d think it’s pretty clear you have moral culpability. Likewise, if you give$1.25 million dollars to a platform which immediately uses that money to fund aggressive lobbying efforts which shutter Planned Parenthoods across the nation, you likewise have moral culpability in a great deal of suffering.

Unfortunately, almost any sort of punishment for making this sort of donation can almost immediately be turned around to punish all sorts of “political speech”, so long as a connection (however tenuous it may be) can be made between that “speech” and some particular reprehensible thing. There’s situations where it’s more clear cut and are probably actionable (like literally buying rockets for Hamas), but is Peter Thiel giving money to the Trump campaign really like buying rockets for Hamas?

117. Marchenko Says:

Scott, I think you are being uncharitable to Anonymous Female #41. Thank you for this otherwise thoughtful discussion.
I do not believe supporting Trump is outside of the bounds of acceptable political choice, or common decency. I have personally struggled with whether to vote for Trump based on a combination of my own rightward leanings, intense aversion to his opponent, and game-theoretical considerations of the type many suspect motivate Peter Thiel. I would not dissacociate from Thiel in YC’s position, and I would prefer that we draw the bounds of “socially acceptable speech” as widely as possible.
However, it seems to me that Maciej has the better argument here: if sama believes Trump poses an especial threat to democracy, and that he is a real danger to American freedom – particularly the freedoms of certain minorities – continuing to associate with his most public backer is a significant counterweight to any measures YC might take in this arena. It suggests that there are different rules for the elite, or at least the hyper-elite: one just needs enough capital and connections to achieve escape velocity from the stifling speech restrictions certain quarters would like to impose on the majority of society. That is not a principled defense of freedom, that is business as usual.

118. JASA Says:

@ Jair (Comment #112) and Marchenko (Comment #117)

I’m curious, what did you find uncharitable about Scott’s response?

First, Anon Female brings up sexual harassment in order to assert Scott’s privilege.

Second, she extrapolates negative personal experiences to create an uncharitable interpretation of Thiel’s actions.

“When Thiel doubled-down and gave \$1.25 Million to Trump’s campaign, Thiel was signaling to every man in Silicon Valley and the tech industry that you can keep harassing women, and he’ll have your back. Not only that, but he’ll fund you to be in positions of power, whether it’s in Washington D.C. or a startup company C-suite, where you will be free to make policies that make it difficult or impossible for women to exist, much less succeed, in STEM.”

It’s unlikely that Anon Girl has any special insight into Thiel’s mind, but she paints him as a monster nonetheless.

As others have pointed out, Thiel may be supporting what he believes is the least-bad candidate given two repugnant options. This donation reveals very little about Thiel’s support of Trump’s views.

Given this behavior, it’s reasonable to assume a “privileged misogynist” reprimand is on the horizon for people (like Scott) who refuse to condemn those people (like Sam) who refuse to condemn those people (like Thiel) for the act of making a political donation.

– JASA

ps – Not “every man in Silicon Valley and the tech industry” sees Thiel’s donation as a signal to harass women. I certainly don’t.

119. Scott Says:

Everyone: Thanks for an enlightening discussion! While there are plenty of incisive questions above that I have yet to answer, on reflection, I’ve unfortunately decided to end my participation in this discussion right now. Everyone else is welcome to continue discussing. The Aumannian agreement with Maciej will need to be pursued some other time.

Like Ulysses tying himself to the mast, my goal is basically to restrain myself before I repeat the comment 171 affair. I do enjoy Talmudic moral debate, and I stand by what I wrote here about the fragility of liberal Enlightenment norms, and what I regard as the overriding need to defend them.

But when my commenters, being the sharp and engaged people they are, keep pushing and pushing, asking me about more and more hypothetical scenarios whose very contemplation has the capacity to offend someone, and in some cases leveling more and more charges from which I feel the need to defend myself, the probability approaches 1 that I’ll slip up, and say something that the Amanda Marcottes and Arthur Chus of the world will then misinterpret in a maximally vicious way.

So, as much as the intellectual part of my brain wants to continue discussing, the rationally self-preserving part has made an executive decision to cut the intellectual part off. I now know that I can actually survive the fallout from speaking openly and honestly about super-sensitive issues—but it takes months of my life and enormous emotional energy, and I don’t have that time or energy right now. And I hope I’ve made my thoughts clear enough.

Enjoy the rest of the thread, and happy Sukkot!

120. Alonzo Synagogue Says:

Hi Scott. Since you’ve decided not to continue this discussion for now, do you have any opinions on the paper “Local Causality in a Friedmann-Robertson-Walker Spacetime” by Joy Christian and the ensuing publication controversy with Elsevier in which they may have retracted without telling the author?

121. Scott Says:

Alonzo #120: I’d vaguely heard about that case, but I didn’t follow the procedural aspects so can’t comment on them. I do feel confident in saying that Joy’s ideas about “local causality” (i.e., Bell’s Theorem being wrong) are utterly without intellectual merit — for details, see the two giant Joy Christian threads that we had on this blog, which for me, was enough about that topic for at least 500 lifetimes!

122. jonas Says:

Dissenting Opinion re #33: the deal isn’t not doing business with Trump, the deal is trying to make sure that Trump doesn’t become president, because he could do a lot of harm as president. There’s at least one person who said they did business with Trump, but still doesn’t support Trump becoming president: Penn Jillette, who explains this in the interview https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D3JX4m4nJKw . Imagine the argument like this: Trump is like a really bad six year old child, impulsive and impossible to control. It’s not that you’re scared of a six year old child, or anyone who becomes friends with him, you’re only scared of the idea that he’s about to get access to his mother’s credit card and the car keys.

123. Aaronson really gets it | posttenuretourettes Says:

[…] this comment (but do read the entire […]

124. posttenuretourettes Says:

As for feeling threatened by Palestinian activists on campus: get that carry permit already!

125. RO Says:

Scott, in light of recent polling in Texas, are you still planning to trade with a Johnson voter? I kinda hope not.

126. Philip White Says:

I just saw this. I suppose that the silver lining of what’s discussed in this post is that at least it appears that Scott Aaronson is finally moving away from eigenmorality.

127. David Sanders Says:

@Scott (cc: jonathan):

I think you should reconsider your classification of Trump as being less than Hitler-bad. The problem is that, in this context, the term Hitler-bad should not encompass the full historical “hellscape” that we now look back on today. During Hitler’s time, Hitler-bad was a moving target. He was considered a fool and not a threat by many in his early days. So is it fair to look now at the fool Trump and declare, “He could never become as bad as Hitler!”? I’d say no. The lesson of the second war should be that no one should ever underestimate the collective momentum of angry, deluded people nor should they underestimate the degree to which said people can be manipulated.

When you realize that Trump is considered by many to be potentially Hitler-bad, I think it’s a lot easier to understand the outrage and urgency with which people reject his surrogates. In that sense, degrees of Kevin Bacon are on a different scale than degree of Donald Trump.

128. Scott Says:

RO #125: Despite ending my participation in this thread, I guess I can answer straightforward factual questions. My vote swap partner in Ohio and I agreed to discuss again a day or so before the election. If Texas looks competitive at that time, then we’ll both vote Hillary; only if Texas looks safe will I vote for Johnson for him.

129. wolfgang Says:

>> then we’ll both vote Hillary

What kind of vote-swapping is that ?

130. Scott Says:

wolfgang #129: The kind you engage in with a guy who supports libertarianism but also wants Trump to suffer the biggest landslide loss possible.

131. Easy Says:

What if Trump wins? Would you change your Bayesian reasoning approach?

132. Daniel Seita Says:

#127-129, interesting, seems like you’ll do same-day voting. I find absentee ballots to be much easier and time-saving for me, though I guess it brings the risk of submitting your vote too soon. I guess I’ll wait a week before the actual election.

133. Eli Says:

Trump is playing a dangerous rhetorical game and playing it well. Firstly, he mixes the “crazy stuff” in with pandering to his base, which he also mixes in with some “sure-fire hits”, those being reasonable or true things you’re only allowed to say if you’re outside the political mainstream. These include things like, “illegal immigration is bad” (right swing) and “we should restrain our military adventurism and imperialism” (left swing).

He says stuff like that precisely so that he’ll have a claim to be the only guy standing outside the corrupt system telling it like it is. This works because the system really is corrupt and he really is speaking obvious truths that everyone outside the halls of power can pretty much see.

Then he throws in two kinds of shit: the kind for Republican officials, and the kind for his voter base. Both of these are a semi-random mixture of things he really thinks, and things he’s saying just so people on “his side” have to say them. Yes, most of it is crazy enough to alienate the general public, but it fires up Republicans and their base at the same time. So he uses this crazy shit to ensure the loyalty of the people around him: to prove their loyalty to Trump, they have to mouth the tenets of Trumpism, which thoroughly alienate them from the general public and leave them nobody to rely on but Trump himself.

The first kind of shit is things like “bomb the hell out of ISIS”. That’s the shit he throws in to drag mainstream Republican politicians and party-staffers into his corner and keep them there. Once he says that, everyone in his party basically has to agree, because what the fuck kind of Republican are you if you don’t want to bomb the hell out of terrorists? Sure, it sounds crazy to non-Republicans, but if you want to keep your supporters behind you, you say it. And then, if someone points out exactly how crazy it is, you’re stuck: just by saying it, you alienated everyone to the left of Trump anyway, so now that you’ve got second-thoughts about Trump, nobody wants you anymore.

The second kind is the stuff about conspiring globalists or grabbing them by the pussy. Maybe he believes it, maybe he’s just trying to see how much he can get away with. He’s egomaniacal like that. He has this absolute need to perceive himself as the winner in every situation, and he just emits the mouth-noises conducive to that goal at any given moment, without regard for semantic content as the rest of us perceive it.

If you start out supporting him and try to turn against him, you confront three problems. One is backlash from the camp you’re already in, like a cult. The second is that outsiders hate your guts now that you’ve shown your support for Trump and Trumpism. The third is that you really won’t find another camp in “sane” mainstream politics who are really addressing the concerns or ideas that drove you to support Trump in the first place!

So for example, if you’re an ex-coal-miner in West Virginia, you know that “grab them by the pussy” is fucked-up. Of course you know that! You know that black people and Mexicans are humans, too: there were always some black guys in your old union. But Hillary came to your state and just basically told you to give up and learn to code, because your blue-collar jobs are never coming back. Really, truth be told, Hillary knows you’re not really going to learn to code and go get a professional-caste STEM job in the Bay Area. She just wants to say you deserve your suffering. And there was that great guy, Bernie Sanders, he was so awesomely angry, for once someone really knew how you feel, but Hillary stole that election from him. Now she’s stealing it from Trump, too, isn’t she, by getting the whole country to just sneer at everyone who isn’t her? So to not just roll with “grab ’em by the pussy” and not just start campaigning to #RepealThe19th would be betraying everyone around you who’s standing up for your way of life. You know it’s crazy, but it’s the only option anyone’s giving you, and there’s just enough publicly unspeakable truth mixed in with the crazy that you can’t really tell what’s real anymore when someone you trust so much says something so crazy.

This is a dangerous game because it involves deliberately destroying common people’s ability to discern the truth of the events happening to them and around them. Sneering will not help. Voting Clinton will not help. Only truth will help, and a basic willingness to consider others as human as we are, with all the flaws and dependencies on circumstances that implies.

Fundamentally, Trump’s driving need is to be the “winner” or “on top” and make other people kneel to him. To that end, he calculates how to whip up his base, (attempt to) humiliate or defame his opponents, and corral the supporters he doesn’t trust (such as most of the Republican Party, really) into having nowhere else to turn. I’d like to give him a 3/5 for Saturday Morning Supervillain quality; I’ve seen better and I’ve seen worse. Unfortunately, in most cartoons, the main characters would have realized they were being manipulated against each-other by now, and their basic main-character bonds of heroic… trust or something-or-other would have kicked in, allowing them to unite and summon their giant robot to bash Trump until he explodes in a shower of old-fashioned tokusatsu sparks.

But frankly, none of the previous Saturday Morning Supervillains I’ve seen actually got themselves on the ballot for President with 40% of the country behind them, and these main characters really don’t seem to realize they’re facing a Saturday Morning Supervillain at all.

134. mike Says:

Two quotes I like from the New Yorker Clinton endorsement:

“We are in the midst of a people’s revolt, a great debate concerning income inequality, the “hollowing” of the middle, globalization’s winners and losers. If the tribune whom the voters of the Republican Party have chosen is a false one, we cannot dismiss the message because we deplore the messenger. The white working-class voters who form the core of Trump’s support—and who were once a Democratic constituency—should not have their anxieties and suffering written off. Their struggle with economic abandonment and an incomplete health-care system demands airing, understanding, and political solutions.”

“Clinton’s vision and temperament are the opposite of her opponent’s. She has been a pioneer throughout her life, and yet her career cannot be easily reduced to one transcendent myth: she has been an idealist and a liberal incrementalist, a glass-ceiling-smashing lawyer and a cautious establishmentarian, a wife and mother, a First Lady, a rough-and-tumble political operator, a senator, a Secretary of State. Her story is about walking through flames and emerging changed, warier and more determined. In her intelligence, in her gimlet-eyed recognition of both the limits and the possibilities of government, she’s a particular kind of inspirational figure, a pragmatist and a Democratic moderate.”

135. M.S. Says:

Several comments in this discussion (e.g. #26), and arguably every invocation of enlightenment values in general, seem to ultimately appeal to the greater long-term viability of societies which maintain norms by which people with incompatible views can continue to coexist, but isn’t the point of all the fashionable shifting of the moral event horizon to undermine precisely this sort of argument? If you feel that the position you are opposing is so repugnant that every attempt to compare it favourably to historical or hypothetical evils is frivolous sophistry, then planning for the long game in a world in which you and the opposition have to continue to coexist and make arrangements is pointless as such a world may as well be burned down. Unfortunately, “nothing short of total victory is acceptable” seems to be a sufficiently good piece of political pep talk that memeplexes which feature it have a reproductive edge over ones which don’t, and so we are left with two parties whose spearheads are large resilient to arguments about civilisation and niceness.

136. YCombinator, Thiel, & the Alt-Right | Eternal Query Says:

[…] first I heard of the Y Combinator/Thiel issue was from Scott Aaronson’s blog. Yes, I’m behind the curve because I don’t follow intra-valley drama. I like to think […]

137. The Most Conservative Says:

Thanks a lot for making this post and being a voice of moderation, Scott.

138. Socrates Says:

#21 writes:
> someone who had just bragged about his history of sexual assault…

Out of curiosity, did you infer this by listening to the full recording?

139. Elliott Says:

Congratulations, you now understand how the regressive left is responsible for creating Trump.
You now understand why feminism is bad for women, SJW behavior is bad for science and progression, and regressive left ideologies are bad for human rights, and how being offended by things is bad for you personally.

Now try to make the connections. And then try coming up with a solution. And then try justifying Hillary Clinton calling 40% percent of Americans “deplorable” for having a political view that’s different from hers.

For your benefit, I’ll point out something directly related. Democrats do something called “race baiting”. It’s the practice of saying “non-white are oppressed, and if you vote for me I’ll fight oppression”. Obama did it when he said “[Treyvon Martin] could have been my son”. Take a step back and try to figure out why this is harmful to non-white communities. If you haven’t figure it out, look at the people who try to get people fired for their political views, then look at BLM.
If you haven’t figured out why this behavior is bad for the people displaying the behavior, just remember that valuable information is being silenced because of personal opinion.

This is half of the reason why people are voting for Trump.

140. Scott Says:

Elliott #139: Still, for all that, the thought of a nuclear-armed Trump is terrifying. I don’t like the faction that you call the “regressive left,” but as an academic and a moderate lefty myself, I’ve lived and worked alongside it for 20 years and can continue to do so. It’s a known and understood hazard. Trump is not.

Also, a correction: Hillary said that half of Trump’s supporters are “deplorable”—so, maybe 20% of Americans, not 40%. And 20% about matches my guess for the percentage of Americans who hold views that I’d consider to be racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, or antisemitic—not according to the modern SJW redefinitions of those terms (which would probably make >95% of Americans “deplorable”), but just according to the usual old-fashioned definitions.

141. John Sidles Says:

Consistent with Scott’s estimate, in the general population the observed epidemiological prevalence of outright symptoms of personality disorder — as subdivided into DSM-IV Clusters A, B, and C — is about nine percent.

For details, see for example “DSM-IV personality disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication” (2007).

Not the least virtue of the quantum supremacy/celerity challenge (as it seems to me) is the superficial yet socially convenient independence of the supremacy/celerity challenge from the iatric challenges that are raised by the DSM-IV diagnostic criteria, and the weighty epidemiological evidence that is attached to them, and the associated humanitarian implications.

That this iatric quantum challenge-separation is superficial rather than fundamental becomes inescapably evident when we systematically contemplate (for example) the myriad applications in medical research and practice of the computational algorithms and sensing technologies that are surveyed in the recent Google/Martinis preprint “Characterizing Quantum Supremacy in Near-Term Devices” (2016, arxiv:1608.00263).

These iatric considerations are why Whitehead’s observation

“It is the business of the future to be dangerous; and it is among the merits of science that it equips the future for its duties.”

applies particularly to the quantum supremacy/celerity challenge, which (as it seems to me) provides Whitehead’s “merit of danger” in full measure.

142. Matjaz Says:

What reasons did Thiel give for not investing in D-Wave?

143. Shtetl-Optimized » Blog Archive » Never, never, never normalize this Says:

[…] evil or idiots. It “merely” makes them catastrophically mistaken. Just as I did (and took a lot flak for doing!) before the election, I will continue to oppose any efforts to harass individual Trump supporters, […]