This is a good article about the alien bubble silicon valley is rolling around in. What shocked me most was this one incredibly stupid comment.
On his blog, Y Combinator president Sam Altman argued that political correctness was damaging the tech industry.This is uncomfortable, but it’s possible we have to allow people to say disparaging things about gay people if we want them to be able to say novel things about physics,he wrote.
If it helps, Altman himself is gay.
No, it doesn’t help.
Altman himself is an entrepreneur, which seems to mean he hustles and shuffles money around, but hasn’t actually accomplished anything himself. He certainly hasn’t said anything novel about physics — he’s a college dropout, and his physics knowledge is probably somewhat less than mine, which isn’t saying a lot. Go ahead, check out his Wikipedia page, and tell me what he has done.
And that’s my objection to his statement — he has zero evidence for the idea that tolerating homophobia benefits science, or that a culture that actively promotes tolerance by rejecting bigotry is somehow equivalent to an oppressive culture that punishes people for their sexual orientation. I’ll just point out that it was people saying disparaging things about gay people that led to the chemical castration and suicide of Alan Turing. Germany had many prominent scientists and engineers in the 1930s, and supported science well, but also had the idea that Jews were bad, and so America was gifted with Albert Einstein, Hans Bethe, Enrico Fermi, John von Neumann, Leo Szilard, James Franck, Edward Teller, Rudolf Peierls, and Klaus Fuchs. One of my graduate advisors, George Streisinger, was a Hungarian Jew whose family fled the Nazis.
These are all equivalently stupid.
It’s possible we have to allow people to say disparaging things about women if we want them to be able to say novel things about computer science.
It’s possible we have to allow people to say disparaging things about black Americans if we want them to be able to say novel things about refrigeration technology.
It’s possible we have to allow people to say disparaging things about Jews if we want them to be able to say novel things about biology.
When you string it together that way, one thing that you ought to notice is the word “people”. Who? What people? It is the assumption about the identity of people: they are non-gay, non-woman, non-black, non-Jews. They are, of course, rich white men, like the ones who populate the Silicon Valley tech bubble. We have to allow rich white men to say whatever they want in order to allow them to reinvent bodegas, reinvent the bus, reinvent food, and do all those other irrelevant things that will make the privileged richer.
It’s possible. It’s possible. It’s possible. “It’s possible” is not an evidence-based statement in support of a policy. It is the kind of open-ended, vague weasely string of words disconnected from cause and effect that allows great evil to thrive in the crevices of its ambiguity.
It’s possible that if we cook and eat the flesh of Sam Altman, we’ll become immortal gods on Earth. Won’t know until we try.