Is political correctness killing Silicon Valley

James Delingpole looks at political correctness and its effect on Silicon Valley and the blogpost of an influential Silicon Valley commentator:

There is now more freedom of speech in Beijing than in the San Francisco Bay area — and this could kill the Silicon Valley tech industry.

While right-wing commentators have been saying this for years, it’s extremely unusual to hear it from the lips of a Silicon Valley tech guru as impeccably liberal as Sam Altman.

Altman, influential and respected CEO of Y Combinator — an accelerator program for Silicon Valley start-ups — has triggered outrage in the tech community for having dared to suggest that political correctness has gotten so bad that it threatens to destroy their business model.

He writes in his latest blogpost:

Earlier this year, I noticed something in China that really surprised me.  I realized I felt more comfortable discussing controversial ideas in Beijing than in San Francisco.  I didn’t feel completely comfortable—this was China, after all—just more comfortable than at home.

That showed me just how bad things have become, and how much things have changed since I first got started here in 2005.

It seems easier to accidentally speak heresies in San Francisco every year.  Debating a controversial idea, even if you 95% agree with the consensus side, seems ill-advised.

This will be very bad for startups in the Bay Area.

You can have freedom to think and innovate or you can have political correctness, but you can’t have both, he warns:

To get the really good ideas, we need to tolerate really bad and wacky ideas too.  In addition to the work Newton is best known for, he also studied alchemy (the British authorities banned work on this because they feared the devaluation of gold) and considered himself to be someone specially chosen by the almighty for the task of decoding Biblical scripture.

You can’t tell which seemingly wacky ideas are going to turn out to be right, and nearly all ideas that turn out to be great breakthroughs start out sounding like terrible ideas.  So if you want a culture that innovates, you can’t have a culture where you allow the concept of heresy—if you allow the concept at all, it tends to spread.  When we move from strenuous debate about ideas to casting the people behind the ideas as heretics, we gradually stop debate on all controversial ideas.

In today’s climate, some of the most innovative ideas in tech — such as Satoshi Nakamoto’s Bitcoin or Elon Musk’s SpaceX — would have probably have been killed at birth:

I don’t know who Satoshi is, but I’m skeptical that he, she, or they would have been able to come up with the idea for bitcoin immersed in the current culture of San Francisco — it would have seemed too crazy and too dangerous, with too many ways to go wrong.  If SpaceX started in San Francisco in 2017, I assume they would have been attacked for focusing on problems of the 1%, or for doing something the government had already decided was too hard.  I can picture Galileo looking up at the sky and whispering “E pur si muove” here today.

[“E pur si muove” — “And yet it moves!” — were purportedly the words of Galileo, after being tortured by the Church into recanting his heretical belief that the Earth moves around the Sun.]

Probably the bravest part of the Altman’s article is the moment where he attempts to introduce Silicon Valley snowflakes to an important concept dating back to at least 1644 when the poet John Milton famously explored it in his polemical pamphlet Areopagitica: the notion that in order to understand what good ideas are, we must first put ourselves into a position where we are able to discuss — and reject — bad ideas.

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. [1] Of course we can and should say that ideas are mistaken, but we can’t just call the person a heretic.  We need to debate the actual idea.

As you’ll see from some of the Twitter responses below, this prompted a mass hurling of toys out of prams which can only be described as “The Triggering.”

But if the tech industry ignores his warning, it will be its loss. As Altman warns, the exodus from the rampantly PC Bay Area has already begun:

More recently, I’ve seen credible people working on ideas like pharmaceuticals for intelligence augmentation, genetic engineering, and radical life extension leave San Francisco because they found the reaction to their work to be so toxic.  “If people live a lot longer it will be disastrous for the environment, so people working on this must be really unethical” was a memorable quote I heard this year.

I can give an example of political correctness from a Kiwi perspective. I happen to know about a company based in Silicon Valley, where a senior manager who is a Kiwi has banned staff from having firearms at the office. He has done so because of two reasons, one is his political correctness, and secondly because he is a Kiwi and doesn’t understand 2nd Amendment rights. He is actually at risk from a law suit funded by the NRA against his company because he is actually breaching the actual and real civil rights of his staff as protected by the US Constitution. It is a case he would lose because of his lack of understanding of the country where he works. It is actually legal for permitted staff to carry concealed weapons in that state. He is impinging their civil rights, but he doesn’t understand the magnitude of it.

You might not think this is a big deal, but it shows how political correctness, in this anti-gun hysteria, can infect a workplace.



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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.