Friday, December 15, 2017

Bad Historical Metaphors: Galileo

I am tired of powerful men worrying about "due process" by comparing great historical iniquities such as lynching, witch hunts, the Inquisition, Internment, and the death penalty to the social scorn and professional consequences of men being outed as bigots and abusers.

It happens constantly and I'm going to start blogging them. Here's todays.

One:  Sam Altman, bigshot Silicon Valley dude, has a  recent whine about free speech in Silicon Valley (see Anil Dash take it apart here). In the piece, he makes a very mixed up historical metaphor. Follow along with these quotes:

 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.
It is bad for all of us when people can’t say that the world is a sphere, that evolution is real, or that the sun is at the center of the solar system.
Note that the world is a sphere, evolution is real, and the sun is the center of solar system.

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.
Heretic. Heresy implies the existence of an empowered orthodoxy.
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.
Note that 1) Galileo didn't actually say this. 2) Galileo was on trial. 3) Neither Satoshi nor Musk are in danger of being put on trial for hating gay people also they don't hate gay people (do they?) and hating gay people has nothing to do with whether their projects are viable.

This easy conflation of historical persecution of knowledge by religious authorities with social scorn by rich liberals against other rich liberals in San Francisco is breathlessly bad, historically illiterate, and a gorgeous defense for a hugely wealthy caste that wants to imagine themselves victims.

More to come.

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