To start, let’s answer the question in the title and take care of the TL/DR version of this blog post.
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As I was browsing Quora (of all places) yesterday morning (Christmas day 2020), I happened across an article that was published in Business Insider only 5 hours earlier. Written by Avery Hartmans, it is titled How The Silicon Valley Exodus Relates To Ongoing Culture Wars.
Though normally I would just pass stuff like this by (tech fluff pieces, or tech apology pieces), this one caught my attention due to the way it was written. That is to say, how the so-called left versus right Culture War is driving people and companies out of California and into Colorado, Texas, Florida and other states.
Silicon Valley elites are fleeing the region for states like Texas and Florida, but that shouldn’t be surprising — it’s the culmination of a culture clash that has been brewing in the tech industry for years
The Silicon Valley exodus is real.
Since the onset of the pandemic, billionaires, venture capitalists, and even major tech firms like HP and Oracle have started to flee the Bay Area. What at first seemed like a one-off response to our new remote-work reality has become a trend: Tech’s elite are leaving, and they’re citing a mixture of high taxes, state regulations, and a homogenous, liberal culture as their reasons for decamping to Texas, Colorado, or Florida.
While the departures of Elon Musk, Larry Ellison, and Keith Rabois are new, the reasons that seem to have nudged them out the door date back years. The pandemic may have spurred a migration away from the West Coast, but the writing has been on the wall as far back as 2017.
Now, as we approach 2021, it seems that a long-simmering culture clash is finally coming to a head.
I would argue that the pandemic emptying offices of most companies, and subsequent economic turmoil associated with the shitty American reaction to said pandemic, had more impact on this move than any cultural issues. But more on that later.
Also, speaking of Elon and the pandemic:
Yeah, I’m not a tech fanboy.
The onset of the so-called culture wars
While it’s likely that facets of Silicon Valley’s culture had been starting to splinter for several years prior to 2017, the most public instance of a culture clash coincides, roughly, with the beginning of President Donald Trump’s presidency.
In September 2016, Palmer Luckey, then the 24-year-old millionaire cofounder of virtual reality company Oculus, was discovered to be the main benefactor behind an anti-Hillary Clinton meme group. By that point, Luckey had already sold Oculus to Facebook for $2 billion and launched the Oculus Rift, the company’s first major product.
According to reporting by The Daily Beast, Luckey had been financing a group called Nimble America, which described itself online as having proven “that s—posting is powerful and meme magic is real.” The group had put up a billboard in Pittsburgh with Clinton’s face that read “Too big to jail.”
Luckey told The Daily Beast at the time that funding the group “sounded like a real jolly good time.”
After the report came out, several female employees resigned from Facebook in protest and Luckey stayed out of the spotlight at Oculus events. By March 2017, he left Facebook — in subsequent interviews, Luckey has said he was fired.
Luckey’s departure was viewed, by some, as a politically motivated firing. In 2018, Sen. Ted Cruz asked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg during a Senate hearing why Luckey was fired, implying it was over his politics, which Zuckerberg denied.
Knowing that I fall on the left side of the political spectrum, I have to take care to look at this impartially. Though people on the right (like Ted Cruz) generally don’t care much about impartiality, I have principles to uphold.
Looking at this from a lens of impartiality, I don’t see anything that I deem as persecution based on speech. I see a person spending their money to support a cause that they aligned with. Some people working in the company were horrified to be associated with such activities, and choose to resign in protest (I know what it’s like to work for a company that is publicly behaving antithetically to your own personal values. It’s demoralizing). As for whether Palmer was strongly urged to resign or indeed fired, I also see no issue with that.
As a citizen of the United States (and most other liberal democracies) you have the right to freedom of speech and expression. However, if you are a high profile representative of an entity (such as a corporation), they are not bound by law to condone your views by way of ensuring your continued employment. They can do what is best for them.
That is not persecution, that is reality. Many Canadians failed to learn this lesson last year after national treasure Don Cherry once again went too far whilst live on air.
To put it another way, nothing to see here.
While that was the first and most public instance of ideological differences becoming a sticking point in Silicon Valley, it wasn’t the last.
The same year, Google engineer James Damore made headlines for writing an anti-diversity manifesto that spread like wildfire through Google’s ranks. Damore argued that the search giant shouldn’t be aiming to increase racial and gender diversity among its employees, but should instead aim for “ideological diversity.” Damore also argued that the gender gap in tech is due to biological difference between men and women, not sexism.
The memo resulted in Damore’s firing, but it also sparked a groundswell of support among white, male engineers at Google who felt that conversations about diversity were offensive to white men and conservatives. Around the same time, far-right communities online began revealing the identities of Google employees who identified as part of the LGBTQ community. Damore then sued Google, alleging the company discriminated against white, conservative males (Damore later dropped the suit.)
Once again, James Damore used his freedom of speech to make his viewpoints known, but his employer (not aligning with the speech, nor wanting any association with it) showed him the door. Freedom of speech does not guarantee freedom from its consequences.
That many white conservative men within tech companies do not understand how privilege works is hardly of note. Considering how friendly that big tech is and has been towards extremely profitable right-leaning content (speaking of James Damore and profitable content, more on that later), I am again forced to ask myself what reality these people are living in.
And of course, Damore dropped the suit because there WAS no suit to be had. Once right-leaning reactionaries had moved onto the next far left outrage, there was no need to risk the very real possibility of crippling financial legal losses.
The point had been made. And no one would ever follow up, because reactionaries don’t follow up on things.
Both Luckey and Damore ended up without a job. But the reactions to their situations and the support they both received highlighted that there was a growing population of tech workers fed up with the region’s culture. At the time, Business Insider’s Steve Kovach argued that Silicon Valley’s “liberal bubble” had burst and that the culture wars had begun.
Let’s first focus on the first sentence. Luckey and Damore ending up without a job on account of their bravery, their persistence in standing up to silicon valley left-leaning bullies. Like the show on Oprah’s channel is titled, where are they now?
As noted earlier, his lawsuit against Google was quietly dropped in May of this year (2020 for future visitors). Though details have not been made public (and likely won’t be), it doesn’t take an attorney to see the unwinnable case that Damore was attempting to make. Which makes it best for both parties to just leave this mess behind and move on their separate ways.
Back in November 2017, the Guardian put out an article detailing some of the situations involving Damore after the firing and infamy. Interestingly, it appears that he has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder since all of this blew up. How this all plays into the situation, it is not for me to say as I am NOT an expert on such disorders. However, given my limited experience with such things, I can see the correlation.
To Damore, it is and always was just about data. That data could cause such an emotional reaction is, I guess, not something that he ever considered.
Don’t get me wrong, he was wrong (his paper or memo is here). If the guardian is correct, it looks like he may have gotten caught in an algorithmic rabbit hole without even realizing it. Both confirmation bias and the Dunning Kruger effect may also end up unknowingly coming into play, leading to hopelessly flawed analysis. And since the aftermath results in perceived persecution coming from detractors, and seeming praise and confirmation from like-minded people (some of which include academics like Jordon Peterson), I can understand why such a mind-frame can become difficult to alter.
I can say this because I once found myself treading a similar path back in the day (maybe the mid-2010’s). Before I understood the nature of algorithmic rabbit holes and why arguments from people like Cassie Jay were wrong, I could have come to a similar conclusion. Thankfully though, I would likely not have had the megaphone that James Damore had to shout these thoughts out for the world to dismantle. I like to THINK that my writings here have a more inflated value than they do. But I know my traffic statistics.
Having said that, being a defender of James Damore was not the direction I had intended on pursuing. Though keeping the humanity in anyone I talk about is important, that was not the journey I started on. Did James Damore get cancelled?
If his LinkedIn profile is to be believed, it indeed appears that he isn’t working anywhere in Silicon Valley, or for any tech company. He appears to have his own startup. As much as I (and many others) thought that he was going to join the grifter circuit (along with Jordon Peterson and the like), a quick search turns up no evidence of such activity. He does not appear to have a patreon, nor even a Youtube account. He appears to only use Twitter.
If anything is evident, it’s the amount of revenue that the man helped many other people generate. Youtube accounts small, large and corporate. Patreons little and large. James Damore made a whole lot of people (including Google, in the form of ad revenue) money.
Say what you will about the memo. Maybe even that he deserved the hole he dug for himself. But I find the whole profiteering angle of it all rather troublesome. Whether or not Damore is pinching pennies, it wouldn’t be the first time that online infamy has cost someone everything and left them high and dry once the attention wears off.
Though he left facebook, he is far from the position that James Damore was (and appears to still be) in. Considering this article alone, he’s already pocketed millions on account of new projects being sold to government contractors. In this case, an interceptor drone capable of disabling drones (and other objects intruding into restricted airspace) midflight.
More on his new venture:
Anduril Industries, a new startup founded by Oculus cofounder Palmer Luckey, is being valued at more than $1 billion after a new fundraising round.
Anduril’s latest financing includes capital from Andreessen Horowitz, CNBC reported, citing people familiar with the matter. The report said the sources asked not to be named because the details of the round are still confidential.
Anduril, launched two years ago, is building a virtual wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. Its technology includes towers with cameras and infrared sensors that use artificial intelligence to track movement. The software-hardware system, called Lattice, has been deployed in Texas and Southern California.
Though it appears that Damore pulled the short end of that stick (I should note here that I am unsure of his political leanings), Palmer hardly seems hindered by his conservative infamy in oh so liberal silicon valley. Hell, he maintained connections with Facebook even AFTER allegedly being fired. Thus showing that Conservative techies of Red and Liberal techies of blue are only concerned with one colour.
Tech millionaires and billionaires are leaving the Bay Area in droves
More than three years later, it seems as though that undercurrent of dissatisfaction is coinciding with the secondary effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
In years past, those who felt disgruntled, overruled, or otherwise disenfranchised by Silicon Valley’s predominately liberal culture had few options. They could leave, of course, but the tech world was still firmly rooted in the Bay Area. Those who wanted a career in tech still felt like they needed to put up with skyrocketing rents and hours-long commutes.
But when offices shut down and major tech companies asked their employees to work remotely, there was no longer as strong a tether to the Bay Area. Some companies, like Twitter and Slack, freed their workers to live wherever they wanted with no expectation to ever return to their San Francisco offices. Others, like Facebook, have said employees may work remotely forever with manager approval.
These decisions seem to have encouraged a larger shift among Silicon Valley’s elite.
Palantir has moved its headquarters to Colorado and HP and Oracle moved to Texas. Palantir CEO Alex Karp told Axios in May that the company wanted to move away from the West Coast and described what he saw as an “increasing intolerance and monoculture” in the tech industry. Karp, for his part, had been living in New Hampshire for much of the pandemic.
Since then, venture capitalist Joe Lonsdale, Dropbox CEO Drew Houston, and Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk have moved to Austin — Lonsdale tweeted that the region was “more tolerant of ideological diversity,” and Musk made the move after warring with California over the state’s coronavirus lockdown measures.
Imagine that . . .
Texas is an environment that is more tolerant of right-leaning business class elitists and glorified libertarians that don’t feel a need to follow best practice safety guidelines! This is SO surprising!
This shift was in the cards in the coming years and/or decades with technological advancement anyhow. The COVID pandemic just served to speed up the schedule in some cases. Therein releasing many companies from the necessity of renting massive amounts of office space (no doubt, for a drastically marked up rate), and releasing many employees to lay down roots wherever they see fit.
It’s good for corporate bottom lines. It’s good for the quality of life of workers. And most of all, it’s good for the communities hosting these tech companies. Less competition for homes and apartments (and of course, office space) means lower overall rates for everyone. This means hopefully fewer people working full-time jobs and/or pursuing educational dreams, yet permanently living out of camper trailers (or even cars) because they can’t make rent.
This is not a culture clash that finally boiled over. It’s a convenient excuse to give California one last kick whilst relocating to more business-friendly territories.
I wonder how long it will take before we start to see similar housing crunches in places like Austin, Texas with many of these companies on the move. Though working from home can indeed solve some of that problem, not every job can be made 100% remote. You are bound to hit a growth-limiting threshold at some point.
Oracle billionaire Larry Ellison has left the region for Lanai, the island he mostly owns in Hawaii, and investor Keith Rabois is decamping for Miami, citing high taxes in San Francisco and a political culture he abhors as his reasons for leaving.
And of course, all of these moves follow venture capitalist and PayPal founder Peter Thiel’s famous departure for Los Angeles in 2018, a move seemingly spurred by his dislike of Silicon Valley’s liberal ideology.
Notably, Lonsdale, Musk, Rabois, and Karp all have ties to Thiel and PayPal, and Ellison is close friends with Musk and sits on Tesla’s board.
So while the wave of departures from arguably the most famous tech hub in the world are, for better or worse, being spurred by the pandemic, the exodus didn’t being out of the blue — it’s a direct result of political and ideological differences that have been building just below the surface for years.
A bunch of rich fucks feeling left out by elitest, liberal California are leaving for more like-minded and lightly taxed pastures (one of which being a self-owned island). Colour me apathetic.
Political and ideological differences . . . okay. For one thing, I highly doubt that people like Musk or Theil really care which party they support. They care about greasing the wheels so as to get the best out of the incoming administration, nothing more. Thanks to money in politics, the corporate political party is the green party.
And no, not the one formerly headed by Jill Stein.
Disclosure: Palantir Technologies CEO Alexander Karp is a member of Axel Springer’s shareholder committee. Axel Springer owns Insider Inc, Business Insider’s parent company.
Of course. Had I sneezed, I would have missed that. While I was wanting to say that the tone (or for that matter, the reason for existence) of this article puzzled me, this is no longer the case.
As all things go, it’s about money. It’s all about the benjamins, baby.
Rich tech elitists don’t give a shit about California culture. They and their succubus corporate entities have gotten all that they need from the state, and are now off to pursue a better deal. Translation . . . off to a more lenient organism in which to attach their tentacles and suck dry. Until that one becomes inhospitable (in which case, back on the hunt!), the succubus dies, or there is nothing left to latch onto. Democratic or Republican, left or right, a nation unified in disarray.
The Silicon Valley culture war is an illusion. As is our long-term habitation on this planet if we don’t learn to see through this propagandistic bullshit.