30 June 2024

There is a Racist Thread Running Through Silicon Valley

As further corruption by Sam Bankman-Fried and FTX unwinds as a result of its bankruptcy, we have found that he diverted funds to the racist advocacy group Litecone. (H/T Atrios)

Lightcone claims that they are into "Longtermism" and "Effective Altruism", but it appears that their real mission is to create a scientific and philosophical gloss for bigotry.

(on edit) I feel compelled to add my conclusion at the beginning, what we see here is not just a cabal of bigots, but rather an exclusive club where the price of admission (in addition to a few years at Stanford and/or growing up white in Apartheid South Africa) is subscribing to a toxic mix of Ayn Rand, eugenics, and racism.

So, I went down an FTX bankruptcy rabbit hole, and here we go:

Multiple events hosted at a historic former hotel in Berkeley, California, have brought together people from intellectual movements popular at the highest levels in Silicon Valley while platforming prominent people linked to scientific racism, the Guardian reveals.

But because of alleged financial ties between the non-profit that owns the building – Lightcone Infrastructure (Lightcone) – and jailed crypto mogul Sam Bankman-Fried, the administrators of FTX, Bankman-Fried’s failed crypto exchange, are demanding the return of almost $5m that new court filings allege were used to bankroll the purchase of the property.

During the last year, Lightcone and its director, Oliver Habryka, have made the $20m Lighthaven Campus available for conferences and workshops associated with the “longtermism”, “rationalism” and “effective altruism” (EA) communities, all of which often see empowering the tech sector, its elites and its beliefs as crucial to human survival in the far future.

At these events, movement influencers rub shoulders with startup founders and tech-funded San Francisco politicians – as well as people linked to eugenics and scientific racism.

Since acquiring the Lighthaven property – formerly the Rose Garden Inn – in late 2022, Lightcone has transformed it into a walled, surveilled compound without attracting much notice outside the subculture it exists to promote.

So, what bigots are they promoting?

Well, they had a conference, and:


Alongside these guests, however, were advertised a range of more extreme figures.

One, Jonathan Anomaly, published a paper in 2018 entitled Defending Eugenics, which called for a “non-coercive” or “liberal eugenics” to “increase the prevalence of traits that promote individual and social welfare”. The publication triggered an open letter of protest by Australian academics to the journal that published the paper, and protests at the University of Pennsylvania when he commenced working there in 2019. (Anomaly now works at a private institution in Quito, Ecuador, and claims on his website that US universities have been “ideologically captured”.)

Another, Razib Khan, saw his contract as a New York Times opinion writer abruptly withdrawn just one day after his appointment had been announced, following a Gawker report that highlighted his contributions to outlets including the paleoconservative Taki’s Magazine and anti-immigrant website VDare.

The Michigan State University professor Stephen Hsu, another billed guest, resigned as vice-president of research there in 2020 after protests by the MSU Graduate Employees Union and the MSU student association accusing Hsu of promoting scientific racism.

Brian Chau, executive director of the “effective accelerationist” non-profit Alliance for the Future (AFF), was another billed guest. A report last month catalogued Chau’s long history of racist and sexist online commentary, including false claims about George Floyd, and the claim that the US is a “Black supremacist” country. “Effective accelerationists” argue that human problems are best solved by unrestricted technological development.


Several controversial guests were also present at Manifest 2023, also held at Lighthaven, including rightwing writer Hanania, whose pseudonymous white-nationalist commentary from the early 2010s was catalogued last August in HuffPost, and Malcolm and Simone Collins, whose EA-inspired pro-natalism – the belief that having as many babies as possible will save the world – was detailed in the Guardian last month.

The Collinses were, along with Razib Khan and Jonathan Anomaly, featured speakers at the eugenicist Natal Conference in Austin last December, as previously reported in the Guardian.

Daniel HoSang, a professor of American studies at Yale University and a part of the Anti-Eugenics Collective at Yale, said: “The ties between a sector of Silicon Valley investors, effective altruism and a kind of neo-eugenics are subtle but unmistakable. They converge around a belief that nearly everything in society can be reduced to markets and all people can be regarded as bundles of human capital.”

HoSang added: “From there, they anoint themselves the elite managers of these forces, investing in the ‘winners’ as they see fit.”

“The presence of Stephen Hsu here is particularly alarming,” HoSang concluded. “He’s often been a bridge between fairly explicit racist and antisemitic people like Ron Unz, Steven Sailer and Stefan Molyneux and more mainstream figures in tech, investment and scientific research, especially around human genetics.”

And then there is a string revealed in a random link:


Prediction markets are a long-held enthusiasm in the EA and rationalism subcultures, and billed guests included personalities like Scott Siskind, AKA Scott Alexander, founder of Slate Star Codex; misogynistic George Mason University economist Robin Hanson; and Eliezer Yudkowsky, founder of the Machine Intelligence Research Institute (Miri).

 That link for Scott Siskind, is to a 2021 article about a blog/discussion space called, as is noted here, "Slate Star Codex."

It was shut down after this story, and later reestablished under a different name.

So, what is Slate Star Codex?

The website had a homely, almost slapdash design with a light blue banner and a strange name: Slate Star Codex.

It was nominally a blog, written by a Bay Area psychiatrist who called himself Scott Alexander (a near anagram of Slate Star Codex). It was also the epicenter of a community called the Rationalists, a group that aimed to re-examine the world through cold and careful thought.

In a style that was erudite, funny, strange and astoundingly verbose, the blog explored everything from science and medicine to philosophy and politics to the rise of artificial intelligence. It challenged popular ideas and upheld the right to discuss contentious issues. This might involve a new take on the genetics of depression or criticism of the #MeToo movement. As a result, the conversation that thrived at the end of each blog post — and in related forums on the discussion site Reddit — attracted an unusually wide range of voices.

There is a whole lot of corrosive sh%$ that is covered under, "An unusually wide range of voices."

“It is the one place I know of online where you can have civil conversations among people with a wide range of views,” said David Friedman, an economist and legal scholar who was a regular part of the discussion. Fellow commenters on the site, he noted, represented a wide cross-section of viewpoints. “They range politically from communist to anarcho-capitalist, religiously from Catholic to atheist, and professionally from a literal rocket scientist to a literal plumber — both of whom are interesting people.”

The voices also included white supremacists and neo-fascists. The only people who struggled to be heard, Dr. Friedman said, were “social justice warriors.” They were considered a threat to one of the core beliefs driving the discussion: free speech.
Yeah, it's all wokeness. That's the problem.


Slate Star Codex was a window into the Silicon Valley psyche. There are good reasons to try and understand that psyche, because the decisions made by tech companies and the people who run them eventually affect millions.

And Silicon Valley, a community of iconoclasts, is struggling to decide what’s off limits for all of us.

Yeah, that's reassuring.


The allure of the ideas within Silicon Valley is what made Scott Alexander, who had also written under his given name, Scott Siskind, and his blog essential reading.

But in late June of last year, when I approached Mr. Siskind to discuss the blog, it vanished.

Because the Randroid racist coffee klatch is profoundly allergic to the light.

To quote P.C. Hodgell, "That which can be destroyed by the truth, should be."


The roots of Slate Star Codex trace back more than a decade to a polemicist and self-described A.I. researcher named Eliezer Yudkowsky, who believed that intelligent machines could end up destroying humankind. He was a driving force behind the rise of the Rationalists.

The Rationalists saw themselves as people who applied scientific thought to almost any topic. This often involved “Bayesian reasoning,” a way of using statistics and probability to inform beliefs.


But it was the other stuff that made the Rationalists feel like outliers. They were “easily persuaded by weird, contrarian things,” said Robin Hanson, a professor of economics at George Mason University who helped create the blogs that spawned the Rationalist movement. “Because they decided they were more rational than other people, they trusted their own internal judgment.”

So, they are arrogant.

Of course arrogance does not inevitably lead to bigotry, though I would argue that this sort of arrogance is required for white supremacy and the like.

Many Rationalists embraced “effective altruism,” an effort to remake charity by calculating how many people would benefit from a given donation. Some embraced the online writings of “neoreactionaries” like Curtis Yarvin, who held racist beliefs and decried American democracy. They were mostly white men, but not entirely.


Last June, as I was reporting on the Rationalists and Slate Star Codex, I called Sam Altman, chief executive of OpenAI, an artificial intelligence lab backed by a billion dollars from Microsoft. He was effusive in his praise of the blog.

(emphasis mine)

So, I've always wondered how Altman, who has an unbroken record of failure, his social media idea was a privacy nightmare and a failure, he was removed as president of Y Combinator for self dealing and a toxic management style, etc.

Now I think that I see:

It was, he said, essential reading among “the people inventing the future” in the tech industry.

Mr. Altman, who had risen to prominence as the president of the start-up accelerator Y Combinator, moved on to other subjects before hanging up. But he called back. He wanted to talk about an essay that appeared on the blog in 2014.

The essay was a critique of what Mr. Siskind, writing as Scott Alexander, described as “the Blue Tribe.” In his telling, these were the people at the liberal end of the political spectrum whose characteristics included “supporting gay rights” and “getting conspicuously upset about sexists and bigots.”

But as the man behind Slate Star Codex saw it, there was one group the Blue Tribe could not tolerate: anyone who did not agree with the Blue Tribe. “Doesn’t sound quite so noble now, does it?” he wrote.

So, Mr. Altman is a big supporter of the idea that being a racist is actually brave and forward looking.

It is an entry point, along with going to Stanford for a while, it seems, into the world of the high wealth tech entrepreneurs, like everyone's favorite literal vampire and gay basher in his student days at Stanford, Peter Thiel:

In 2005, Peter Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal and an early investor in Facebook, befriended Mr. Yudkowsky and gave money to MIRI. In 2010, at Mr. Thiel’s San Francisco townhouse, Mr. Yudkowsky introduced him to a pair of young researchers named Shane Legg and Demis Hassabis. That fall, with an investment from Mr. Thiel’s firm, the two created an A.I. lab called DeepMind.

And what is the allure?  A tacit acceptance of racism:


Part of the appeal of Slate Star Codex, faithful readers said, was Mr. Siskind’s willingness to step outside acceptable topics. But he wrote in a wordy, often roundabout way that left many wondering what he really believed.

"A willingness to step outside of acceptable topics," is a code word.  It means saying that women are less capable in IT, that blacks are genetically inferior, and that we should be practicing eugenics to improve the species, all while pretending that it is just, "Asking questions."


As he explored science, philosophy and A.I., he also argued that the media ignored that men were often harassed by women. He described some feminists as something close to Voldemort, the embodiment of evil in the Harry Potter books. He said that affirmative action was difficult to distinguish from “discriminating against white men.”

In one post, he aligned himself with Charles Murray, who proposed a link between race and I.Q. in “The Bell Curve.” In another, he pointed out that Mr. Murray believes Black people “are genetically less intelligent than white people.”

He denounced the neoreactionaries, the anti-democratic, often racist movement popularized by Curtis Yarvin. But he also gave them a platform. His “blog roll” — the blogs he endorsed — included the work of Nick Land, a British philosopher whose writings on race, genetics and intelligence have been embraced by white nationalists.

In 2017, Mr. Siskind published an essay titled “Gender Imbalances Are Mostly Not Due to Offensive Attitudes.” The main reason computer scientists, mathematicians and other groups were predominantly male was not that the industries were sexist, he argued, but that women were simply less interested in joining.

That week, a Google employee named James Damore wrote a memo arguing that the low number of women in technical positions at the company was a result of biological differences, not anything else — a memo he was later fired over. One Slate Star Codex reader on Reddit noted the similarities to the writing on the blog.

Mr. Siskind, posting as Scott Alexander, urged this reader to tone it down. “Huge respect for what you’re trying, but it’s pretty doomed,” he wrote. “If you actually go riding in on a white horse waving a paper marked ‘ANTI-DIVERSITY MANIFESTO,’ you’re just providing justification for the next round of purges.” 

So, according to Mr. Siskind, the problem with writing that women can't code is not that this is misogynist bullsh%$ unsupported by the facts, it's that woke folks will come after you.

In 2013, Mr. Thiel invested in a technology company founded by Mr. Yarvin. So did the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, led in the investment by Balaji Srinivasan, who was then a general partner.

That year, when the tech news site TechCrunch published an article exploring the links between the neoreactionaries, the Rationalists and Silicon Valley, Mr. Yarvin and Mr. Srinivasan traded emails. Mr. Srinivasan said they could not let that kind of story gain traction. It was a preview of an attitude that I would see unfold when I approached Mr. Siskind in the summer of 2020. (Mr. Srinivasan could not be reached for comment.)

“If things get hot, it may be interesting to sic the Dark Enlightenment audience on a single vulnerable hostile reporter to dox them and turn them inside out with hostile reporting sent to *their* advertisers/friends/contacts,” Mr. Srinivasan said in an email viewed by The New York Times, using a term, “Dark Enlightenment,” that was synonymous with the neoreactionary movement.

You remember Mr. Srinivasan, don't you?  He's the one who called for the ethnic cleansing of San Francisco, and Marc Andreeson thinks that he is one of the most interesting people in the world.

You do not need a tinfoil hat to conclude that Silicon Valley "Bro" culture is toxic and racist.

I would argue that these attitudes are a requirement for playing for the big boys in and around Santa Cruz, California. 

They think that they are all John Galt, and that everyone else is mud people.


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