Conformity and Intimidation

(I mentioned these links before, in comments to this post, but I believe they are important enough to merit inclusion in a top-level post)

According to a poll conducted by YouGov on behalf of the Cato Institute, almost 2/3 of Americans are afraid of sharing their political views. And with some reason, it seems: among strong ‘liberals’, 50% would support firing a business executive who had privately donated to the Trump campaign. Among strong conservatives, 36% would support firing an executive who donated to Biden. Even among those who identify as just ‘liberal’ rather than ‘very liberal’, 43% would be in favor of firing a Trump donator…22% of conservatives would be in favor of firing a Biden donor.

See also this very interesting piece by the entrepreneur and venture capitalist Paul Graham: The Four Pillars of Conformism. Read the whole thing.

39 thoughts on “Conformity and Intimidation”

  1. Paul Graham in that article claims “the people who run Silicon Valley are almost all independent-minded” which is of course self-righteous nonsense. He seems to have been writing about this sort of thing for a very long time, see for example
    But I can’t tell if he ever spoke up for Brendan Eich, etc

  2. Brian…Graham notes that: “Though the people who run Silicon Valley are almost all independent-minded, they’ve handed the aggressively conventional-minded a tool such as they could only have dreamed of.” (ie, social media and its censorship capabilities)

    It’s an interesting question, though, as to whether being independent-minded in one field means that a person will be independent-minded in *other* fields. To take a couple of extreme examples, Werner von Braun was independent-minded in rocket development and Leni Riefenstahl was independent-minded in moviemaking, but neither one showed much independence-mindedness in political affairs, to put it mildly.

  3. I admit I have been mostly focused in how dangerous liberals have become on this score. I suppose I can take some small comfort in the fact that conservatives “scored better,” but frankly, I may in the long run be even more discouraged by that. I wonder how new this is? Over 90% of the people I work with are liberal, some quite radically so. I think my Christian friends would be about 70% conservatives, though in both groups there are many who are not especially political at all. Until recently I have been impressed at how well my Christian friends have tolerated and even encouraged the expression of other points of view. This past year or two I have started to wonder, as this seems less true now. Have they changed, or has my awareness changed?

  4. David: I see zero reason to think that the first part of the sentence, the part I quoted, is true. And I’ve not seen a single “leader” in SV step up to tell the SJW pack that their nonsense won’t be tolerated, and to clean house in order to prove they mean it. Zuckerberg has mostly stood firm, but that’s not enough, what’s needed is pushback.

  5. We are 100 days out from the election and I cannot believe how few elections signs, I have seen in southern New Hampshire. The people who make election paraphernalia must be crying. For the last month, on a trip I take a couple of times a week, I see 3 Trump and 0 Biden. My daughter drove 90 miles round trip this weekend to Lake Watatic in MASACHUSETTS, she saw 2 Trump signs and 1 Biden. Anecdotal I know, I don’t know what it means, but people around here are keeping their vote preferences private.

  6. No election signs? Well, duh! (and yes, the manufacturers of election paraphernalia must indeed be crying for the lack of orders) When putting out a pro-Trump lawn sign on your lawn or a bumper sticker on your car runs the very real risk of vandalism from some freak? I noted this in my own neighborhood – the thing to look for now is American flags. Putting out American flags, or stars and stripes bunting is the relatively safe option.
    My daughter and I do not put political stickers on our cars, or on our home property. Just don’t.
    Look for American flags.

  7. It’s bad enough that so many Senators have been nominated for president recently, despite the fact that a career as a legislator (and most of them haven’t even been leaders!) in no way prepares one for executive positions, and their track record isn’t even good at actually winning, but the fact that we’re looking at a nominee who is clearly in severe cognitive distress is quite legitimately worrisome for the future of the republic.
    Try to mention that to a Dem, and they’ll just say Trump is worse or something.
    I’m very interested in how they’re going to try to justify cancelling the debates, because seeing Joe shuffle out and try to get through them is going to be humiliating for us all. My guess is they’re going to pick brazen partisans as hosts and when Trump objects they’ll use that as the excuse to just call them off.

  8. No election signs? Well, duh! (and yes, the manufacturers of election paraphernalia must indeed be crying for the lack of orders) When putting out a pro-Trump lawn sign on your lawn or a bumper sticker on your car runs the very real risk of vandalism from some freak?

    There are no Biden signs where I live. I make a point of looking for them.

  9. I should have been clearer re: campaign signs; in addition to yard signs, I’m talking about public spaces and intersections where typically there would be dozens of signs.

  10. I think my Christian friends would be about 70% conservatives, though in both groups there are many who are not especially political at all. Until recently I have been impressed at how well my Christian friends have tolerated and even encouraged the expression of other points of view. This past year or two I have started to wonder, as this seems less true now. Have they changed, or has my awareness changed?

    I think the things being expressed have changed.

    Three years ago, I didn’t have to launch myself for the radio dial when the news came on, for fear that my kids would be informed they are incurably evil for being born.
    I didn’t have to double-check signs to see if they’d be informing the kids that only whites can be rational, or independent, or Christian.

    I didn’t have to explain to them that we can’t go visit our family because they are mostly in states that are locked down, but at the same time it really isn’t like they’re likely to die.

    I could turn on the evening news without them seeing either a naked female moron or riots. (Although their dad has persuaded them that nobody will be launching fireworks at his workplace, because Des Moines has been saner than Portland. Lowbar, but it works.)

    We just lost the first person we actually knew to what was probably the Kung Flu– he got a strangely bad flu in early January. No test, he hadn’t traveled internationally. Follow up treatment was classified as “elective.” He was elderly and not in great health already, but he should have survived, if he could’ve been treated before the problems put him in the ER, repeatedly. (Two other family friends didn’t catch the kung flu, and were still nearly killed– they lived because they had folks who effectively insisted their heart surgery and what turned out to be a gangrenous gallbladder were “essential” before it took them straight to the ER. Both in high risk categories, by the by.)

    One side is pushing this stuff.

    I do have to consider that someone donating to, say, Biden– supports removing legal protections from innocent people who are near radical racists, and punishing them if they DO defend themselves.

    When people tell me that they hate me, and want to harm me, I should probably consider that they might be telling the truth.

  11. Re: election signs.
    I think I’ve seen one Biden sign. We’re not in Des Moines proper, so I’ve seen a lot of Trump signs– privately purchased and manufactured, even, been up since Christmas at least for the early ones, although there’s been some new ones.

    I’ve seen at least three different models of Trump window stickers on cars, and one for Biden. I’ve seen more for… Cho? Chan? Think his name was John? One of the gazillion Dems who burned out early.
    And one Beto sticker, too, last week.

  12. I live in a conservative county in the mountains of Colorado. Back when I was a registered Republican I have been one of the 5 crazies who actually ran a presidential campaign in our county. Note that none of us were Republican Party officials, who did not show up once at campaign HQ until after the election had been called. They came to take credit and for the media interviews. They were too important to actually try to get their candidate elected [we did].

    I’ve seen a couple of Biden stickers. I have seen many more Trump stickers. No signs. National level signs, stickers, etc. are no longer attempts to convince others, but rather declarations of choice and more and more of a willingness to defend your side with force. I have seen a few county government level signs, but they so far do not trigger as much hostility.

    I am very much a senior citizen, and I have been involved in politics since I was a kid. And I have watched things change. We are not one country right now, and have not been for a generation +. We are at least 3 separate nations, probably more, inside one set of borders. They are mutually hostile and are edging towards open violence. Thus, open and public declarations of allegiance to one or another actually has a physical danger attached.

    That is not going to change regardless of who wins in November. Keep thine codpieces buttoned, because anything could become a Lexington or a Fort Sumter. Know who is around you, and what danger they can pose to you and yours.

    Even here back where G-d forgot, we have had ANTIFA demonstrators shoot people who were not doing anything political, just going about their business. WE know of the cases, and we know that the media are not covering them. Anyone who looks knows that District Attorneys/Prosecutors, whether elected or appointed are loyal to their political party and not the law or Constitution.

    We are reverting to a more “tribal” definition of polity. This is going to be a replay of all three sections of the traditional Chinese curse. 1) May you live in interesting times. 2) May you come to the attention of the Authorities. 3) May you get what you say you want.

    Subotai Bahadur

  13. I too, call BS on Graham’s little essay. I hope he didn’t dislocate anything important patting himself on the back for his radical nonconformity. I seem to recall the SJW hounds coursing through Y Combinator on several occasions when someone stuck his head up.

    While the big cheeses of SV see themselves as the arbiters of Truth, Justice and the American Way, holding them as an example viewpoint tolerance is so far from reality that you have to doubt the sanity of anyone that actually believes it. Papal Infallibility is nothing compared to what must come with a place on Forbes billionaires list.

    If what he said was true, the guy with a swastika tattooed on his forehead should be having to beat the VCs off with a stick. Can you think of a more certain sign of aggressive non-conformity? Should be good for a unicorn for sure.

    As far as polls are concerned, there’s an old James Stewart movie, “Magic Town”:

    It is about a pollster that discovers a town that perfectly mirrors the country. He uses it as his sample to predict things until the townspeople become aware what’s happening, after which it falls apart. This is what’s happening now. The rubes have seen the gaff, the pollsters have no way to tell if anyone is answering honestly (the ones that will answer their phone) and should realize many aren’t. If they admit it, they don’t have anything to sell so we’re in for another “upset”.

    We’ll know in November maybe. It will depend on how many votes the Democrats can steal

  14. I don’t think Graham is arguing that startup execs are necessarily models of political tolerance; he is arguing that in order to do what they have done they need to show some aggressive non-conformity in a *work* context…is it really unlikely that the average willingness to do things differently is higher among people who start something than among people who don’t? I don’t think he is arguing that this tendency necessarily carries forward into non-work contexts.

    Part of the problem with the opinion culture in Silicon Valley (and it’s important to remember that startups don’t happen only in SV) is the geographical concentration…like Hollywood.

  15. The effort to dox and harass can come out of anywhere. SecondCityCop reports that a teacher from the Chicago Public Schools, “has also taken it upon himself to publicly name, dox and harass a CPD mom who has kids who go to Bridge Elementary up north.” Not a surprise really, using children, to make some cheap political point.

  16. David: But he didn’t even say “startup execs”, he said “the people who run Silicon Valley”, and right now only Zuck is an actual founder. All the other SV bigwigs are bureaucrats and/or VCs.

  17. AVI
    Until recently I have been impressed at how well my Christian friends have tolerated and even encouraged the expression of other points of view. This past year or two I have started to wonder, as this seems less true now. Have they changed, or has my awareness changed?

    It is less true now. Because the attacks have intensified in recent years on those who do not 100% back the “progressive” narrative de jour, some people are fighting back.For examples of recent intensification of attacks, consider John McWhorter’s recent Quillette article. Our Oppressive Moment. Some examples:

    The president and the board chairman of the Poetry Foundation resigned after 1800 members signed a protest letter condemning them because the statement that they had released in support of Black Lives Matter was not long or substantial enough.

    The president of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art was forced to resign after a meeting during which the museum was criticized for being insufficiently committed to non-white artists. He concurred but added that the museum would not stop collecting white artists because this would constitute “reverse discrimination.” His use of that term cost him his job, because it implied that non-whites are capable of racism despite their lack of institutional power….

    If progs are going after progs, the message is that non-progs may as well fight back, as there is NOTHING but absolute submission the progs are after.

  18. “there is NOTHING but absolute submission the progs are after”

    And where have you been keeping yourself Mr. Van Winkle?

    Nothing less than absolute adherence to the principals and precepts of “xxx” is acceptable.

    What are the principals and precepts of “xxx”?

    They are exactly what we say they are today, nothing more and nothing less.

    Who is we?

    Where are you taking me?

    You have been designated for reeducation.

  19. I am curious,although the answer to my question may be in the comment above that most of the Silicon Valley people are no longer founders. If you came up with a brilliant tech innovation and fought to form a company and make a success of the business, then your employees told you what your company could do and with whom it could contract, would you be a happy camper? Google was apparently informed by its employees that it could not take or compete for a Defense Dept contract, Amazon has had strictures put on its business by employees, etc. Given that a large number of Silicon Valley employees are H1-B status and therefore not sticking their oar in if they know what’s good for them, that doesn’t leave a lot of irreplaceable people to kowtow to. So – are the tech billionaires so confident that their money can buy them out of any situation that they will put up with this?

  20. David, that summary was pretty good on Thiel’s speech. The most significant issue is whether Google has chosen our enemies. He is right on universities. I suspect there is a small nucleus of people at CalTech and MIT who are doing good work in spite of all the affirmative action insanity with “Black” math and grammar. I have no solution although I suggested that my son send his 15 year old son into the Marines to grow up before thinking about college. His two girls are sensible and are athletes so they will probably be OK if they can avoid the militant lesbians on campus. My middle daughter was interested in women’s rugby until she saw the teams. It took her a year to get away from the aggressive lesbians.

  21. Fiona…I suspect that in some cases, they agree with the protestors enough that they don’t feel like fighting about it, in other cases, they just don’t want to worry about the situation and cave in to avoid (they think) having to spend any more time on it. It is a good point that one would *think* that a natural sense of ownership by someone who started a business, or developed an existing one, would naturally want to push back against someone trying to tell them what to do.

    The case I thought was particularly depressing was that of Boeing, where the director of communications (ie, the top PR guy) was pushed out because *thirty years ago*, when he was a Navy pilot, he wrote an article arguing that women should not serve in combat. Boeing acted to stamp out this retroactive outbreak of Heresy with much more alacrity than the acted to fix the problems with the 737 MCAS system.

    David Calhoun, the CEO of this company, is 63 years old. He has made a fair amount of money at GE and other places….he doesn’t need this job, Boeing needs him. He is old enough to have escaped the worst of the university political indoctrination. The odds that any airlines or government agencies will avoid doing business with Boeing because of a 30-year-old paper written by the communications director are microscopic. The consequences for Boeing culture of this witch-hunt are surely malign.

    So why is he doing this?

  22. David, why did Boeing move their headquarters from Seattle to Chicago ? Boeing was the big thing in Seattle for 70 years. What happened? About the same time, they started to use lots of H1B visa holders to write code. The 737 fiasco followed. Something happened to these corporate cultures about the time Jack Welch retired. It sort of coincided with Bill Clinton.

  23. “why did Boeing move their headquarters from Seattle to Chicago”…probably had something to do with the McDonnell Douglas ‘acquisition’…McD was based in St Louis or thereabouts. so the new CEO, who came from McD, had no particular affinity to Seattle…also, apparently some labor conflict helped persuade the new CEO to move. I believe the Boeing Commercial Airplanes division is still based in Seattle.

    I doubt if the 737 problems were due to bad code…they were more due to the *specifications* as to what the code was supposed to do…also to the very inadequate documentation that was supplied to pilots.

  24. I’ve seen one Biden sign in my inner city neighborhood. Four years ago there were thousands of Hillary signs while eight and ten years ago there was an Obama sign planted on at least every other lawn. No enthusiasm for Joe. Why would there be?

  25. The fundamental problem with the 737 Max was a desire to put those high bypass turbofans on the wing but not spend the money to redesign the wing for taller landing gear. The result was the bastard design that put the engines so far forward and shifted the center of effort too far forward. That led to the tendency to pitch up and required software correction that was not documented out of a desire to avoid expensive retraining. In other words:

    Money, money, money.

  26. Interestingly, there was an earlier version of MCAS installed on the KC-45A Pegasus, a military tanker. With this aircraft, the pitch-up moment came from the wing pods rather than from larger engines.

    Differences were: first, that the system required agreement from *both* angle of attack indicators to activate, and second, it was more limited in its power and could be more easily overridden by the pilot.

    (I bet it also had an AOA Disagree indicator, which the Max did not have as a standard option)

    With this approach, the 737 Max would probably have avoided the disasters.

  27. The idea wasn’t necessarily bad. The problem, as you point out, was the differences. First, the amount of trim was limited in the KC-45A. In the 737MAX, it just kept cranking until it was shut off or the plane crashed. While it was in operation, the pilots couldn’t over power it. The pilots knew what was going on, probably the most important thing. Finally, the pilots had training beyond memorizing scripts that would get them past different training stages.

    There’s a world of difference between a pilot that makes decisions based on an understanding of how a plane is supposed to fly and how it is actually flying and one that is simply following a script. I did this, so now I do that. The second is how a lot of third world pilots fly. Both American and Southwest reported problems that were quickly handled by competent pilots.

    Something to think about the next time you are selecting an airline. Or a doctor.

  28. Something to think about the next time you are selecting an airline. Or a doctor.

    On the topic of doctors, I would suggest a look at NHS and Canadian doctors.

    Just a thought.

  29. I’ve read and heard that there is a huge emphasis on memorization in Asian schools, especially China and India. To the extent that something can be reduced to flow charts and check lists, this would seem good enough if they can memorize enough and retain it long enough.

    The real problem comes when there is a time crunch. This is when the difference between life and death is being able to bypass all of the BS and solve the problem right now. No time to go through the equivalent of “Is the plug in the socket and is it turned on?” and all the other baby steps.

    The real scandal on the 737MAX crashes was that the flight crews had all the proper credentials but weren’t able to figure out a somewhat common malfunction. Runaway trim from any reason was something that they were supposed to be trained to handle. It doesn’t absolve Boeing, but competent pilots didn’t have more than a momentary problem. The real problem is that there are thousands of pilots flying for all these regional carriers that are no more competent. They used to be flying much smaller, much simpler planes but economics and “prestige” have put these very complicated planes in smaller and smaller markets. You can be sure the quality of maintenance is no better.

  30. There’s a world of difference between a pilot that makes decisions based on an understanding of how a plane is supposed to fly and how it is actually flying and one that is simply following a script. I did this, so now I do that. The second is how a lot of third world pilots fly. Both American and Southwest reported problems that were quickly handled by competent pilots.

    Something to think about the next time you are selecting an airline. Or a doctor.

    Not just 3rd World Airlines. Air France 447.

    On Amazon I was watching a series on Airliner crashes, and their causes. It was fascinating. There have been at least 3 crashes from the simple problem of the pitot-static system beuinkg clogged.

    Just a simple tube with a hole in it and elsewhere on the plane, a few tiny holes to measure the pressure. Only problem is, on modern airliners so much computerization relies on this system that has been around at least since the 1920s. And when it is blocked, the computers go crazy. Airspeed indicator goes crazy. Altimeter.

    In the case if the Air France, it had iced over. In the case of a Peruvian 757 a maintenance crew didn’t remove the tape over the static holes when washing the plane. There was another 757 in the Caribbean that had a wasp nest in the pitot tube.

    And all of these flight crews just chased the instruments.

    They weren’t thinking a little “outside the box”.

    Maybe the most amazing one to me was the 777 captain who just landed his plane short of the runway at SFO. In good weather. Relying on the electronics and ignoring the obvious.

  31. On the 777 in San Fransisco, not only was that JAL that most people would rate as a first rate airline, I think there were actually 5 pilots on board, including a senior instructor. The investigation said that all the chit chat between them distracted the actual pilot in command from paying attention to flying the plane.

    There’s the case quite a while ago now where a C-141 landed wheels up at Amarillo on a training flight from Altus, OK. The pilot just forgot and they thought all the noise from sliding down the runway was from a blown tire. They didn’t realize what happened until the crew door hit the ground when they opened it. The pilot went on to American.

    Part of the problem with the Air France crash into the middle of the Atlantic was that so many alarms were going off, they kept the crew from focusing on what was actually happening. Here there were also several senior pilots and a fairly long time to talk it over before they hit the water. All they needed to do was ignore the warnings and lower the nose. With the fly by wire system, there wasn’t any feedback on the controls that would have told them that they were in a stall. The 30° nose up attitude should have been a hint.

    An awful lot of systems generate dozens of warnings and alarms from a single original error of some sort. Every single one wants a louder klaxon and brighter flashing light then the next and usually some arcane way to restore enough quiet to actually figure out what happened.

    At the same time, once something is automated, it’s practically impossible to get anyone to pay attention to it after hitting the “START” button. This is the problem with the state of driver assists now. How any sane person believes that simply keeping your hand on the steering wheel equals being ready to instantly take over when it stops working without warning is beyond me. I wonder how long Tesla and the others will be able to keep up the smoke and mirrors.

  32. You’re right, still a case of an experienced crew flying a perfectly functional airplane into the ground.

  33. There was a drive by airlines to retire older captains in favor of
    “Crew Resource Management ” systems.
    This was due to resistance by older pilots to these automated systems.

    While retaining a command hierarchy, the concept was intended to foster a less authoritarian cockpit culture, where co-pilots were encouraged to question captains if they observed them making mistakes.

    I think the real reason was to reduce the resistance to “fly by wire” systems. The AF 447 incident was an example of the bad results.

    A discussion of the retirement age issue for pilots.

    Two factors are coming to a head. Military pilots are declining as a source and new plots are getting less training. A friend of mine is an American captain and is over 60. He was an F 18 pilot in Gulf War I. He has a successful business in addition to flying.

  34. There’s a show on Amazon called “Ice Pilots” about an airline in Northwest Territory Canada. An awful lot of it about how much the different employees are willing to put up with in order to get multi-engine transport hours on their log books.

    The military provided free training for the airlines when they were flying thousands of planes. now that we are down to hundreds and in some cases dozens, the airlines are going to have to figure out something. There are a lot of pilot mills out there and a lot of people willing to borrow whatever it takes to get a rating. A lot then go to work for regional carriers for less than the baggage handlers make. Something to comfort yourself with the next time your on a rough approach in a puddle jumper where your flying sideways almost as much as forward.

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