Sorry Silicon Valley Liberals, Freedom of Thought Is Too Important to Mess With

Peter Thiel at RNC 2016

Silicon Valley is on fire because venture capitalist Peter Thiel, after speaking in support of Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention, is donating $1.25 million to Trump’s campaign through a combination of super PAC donations and funds given directly to the campaign, The New York Times reported.

Project Include, led by Former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao, is breaking off its relationship with start-up incubator Y Combinator (YC) in protest against Thiel’s association with YC as part-time partner.

“While all of us believe in the ideas of free speech and open platforms, we draw a line here,” says Pao. “We agree that people shouldn’t be fired for their political views, but…” it appears they don’t really agree. Same for free speech.

Gizmodo writer J.K. Trotter thinks YC president Sam Altman should resign.

Altman penned a post to elaborate on YC’s choice to keep Thiel on board. After explaining that he is a Clinton supporter and considers Trump as “an unprecedented threat to America” who “shows little respect for the Constitution, the Republic, or for human decency,” Altman goes to the heart of the matter:

“[As] repugnant as Trump is to many of us, we are not going to fire someone over his or her support of a political candidate. As far as we know, that would be unprecedented for supporting a major party nominee, and a dangerous path to start down.”

Altman’s position is reasonable and principled, in the spirit of a quote often attributed to Voltaire:

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

Needless to say in today’s political climate, Altman is not finding many supporters. There are exceptions though. The Week columnist Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, for one, is persuaded that “[the idea] that speech that makes anybody uncomfortable should be prohibited [is] incompatible with liberal democracy as we classically understand it.”

Gobry is no Trump supporter. On the contrary, he called Trump “a proto-fascist” and believes Trump is a person “manifestly temperamentally unfit to be president,” whose campaign “is unhealthily stoking dark forces in the American psyche.”

But Gobry points out that Silicon Valley liberals, in pursuit of their otherwise worthy effort to promote diversity when it comes to underrepresented groups, are endangering the equally important diversity of opinion. Silicon Valley, and America, are what they are because they have tolerated diversity of opinion and encouraged freedom of thought and freedom of speech.

So far.

“Diversity of opinion is painful but critical to the health of a democratic society,” added Altman in a tweet.

We can’t start purging people for political support.

A somewhat unexpected defense of freedom of thought and speech came from Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg, CNN Money reports. “We can’t create a culture that says it cares about diversity and then excludes almost half the country because they back a political candidate,” said Zuckerberg in a post shared only with Facebook employees. “There are many reasons a person might support Trump that do not involve racism, sexism, xenophobia or accepting sexual assault.”

The authenticity of Zuckerberg’s post has been confirmed by Facebook. The first comment in a YC’s Hacker News thread dedicated to Zuckerberg’s remarks says it all:

If everyone looks different but thinks the same, that’s not real diversity.

Shaming and Mobbing Practices Have No Place in a Liberal Democracy

"Culture" of shamingI guess Thiel is one of those persons that, as Zuckerbers says, support Trump for reasons that do not involve racism, sexism, xenophobia or accepting sexual assault. To my knowledge. Thiel is no racist or xenophobe, and has never sexually assaulted anyone. It’s worth noting that Thiel was the first man ever to say “I’m proud to be gay‘ at a Republican National Convention, and donated $2 million to the campaign of Carly Fiorina (who, for those who didn’t notice, happens to be a woman). To me, raised in the old-fashioned belief that facts count more than empty words, these facts indicate that calling Thiel homophobic or sexist is, to say the least, surreal.

Peter Thiel is a visionary thinker who believes, for reasons that must make sense to him, that a Trump presidency would be good for the nation and the world. I disagree. But we must reply to Thiel’s arguments with better arguments, not with shaming and mobbing practices that have no place in a liberal democracy.

I am not an American, but I have given a lot of thought to the upcoming US elections. As a foreigner who will be affected (like everyone else on the planet) by America’s choice on November 8, and as a friend of America, I hope Clinton wins.

But I don’t condemn Trump’s supporters. On the contrary, I agree with Zuckerberg: almost half of the population of the US support Trump for reasons that, in many cases, deserve consideration.

I agree with Altman and Gobry: tolerance, freedom of thought, and freedom of speech, are among the foundations of a healthy society, among the greatest conquests of modern liberal civilization, and much too important to mess with.

Unfortunately, many US “liberals” – I can’t resist putting the word between scare quotes – are disowning these fundamental liberal values. The “liberal” Politically Correct (PC) thought police keeps harassing all those who dissent with shaming and mobbing practices that are running amok, often with the silent approval of the “liberal Left.” In my opinion, this trend is a dangerous slippery slope to a very bad place.

The Thiel episode is but the last of many similar cases. Tesla Motors and SpaceX founder Elon Musk was recently attacked by the media because… he doesn’t follow enough women on Twitter.

A few weeks ago Palmer Luckey, the creator of Facebook’s Oculus Rift Virtual Reality (VR) headset, was outed as a backer of a Trump fan group called “Nimble America.” Some VR developers said they intended to stop developing for the Rift until Luckey is gone.

But other developers resisted the public shaming wave. One said:

I absolutely support him doing whatever he wants politically if it’s legal.To take any other position is against American values.

Well said.

And don’t forget last year’s BullShirtStorm.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are solely that of the author and do not represent those of, nor should they be attributed to Hacked.

Images from Republican National Convention (screenshot) and Wikimedia Commons.

Giulio Prisco is a freelance writer specialized in science, technology, business and future studies.