Tag Archives: tech

Three Modern Grassroots Rebellions

In my last post, I proposed that the Grey Tribe is an American culture distinct from the Red and Blue tribes most commonly discussed.

Greys are a libertarian-minded tribe of live-and-let-livers. They tend to dwell online, often adopting shifting pseudonyms and communicating with each other on forums and anonymous imageboards. Amongst the Grey Tribe one would expect to see higher levels of internet savvy, fondness for tech gadgetry, and disillusionment with traditional politics. They support privacy and anonymity, and oppose the NSA surveillance regime. Edward Snowden is a Grey Tribe hero. They revere open source, strongly support an open internet, and it is by no means exaggeration to describe them as free speech fundamentalists.

Greys tend to have nomadic tech industry jobs. Many are freelancers or entrepreneurs. They engage online and don’t congregate geographically as thickly as the other tribes do, except for their noticeable clusters in San Francisco and other technology hubs. They speak in nerd/geek/gamer lingo and signal membership to each other with Internet cultural tropes and catchphrases. All three of the tribes have found a home on the internet but the Grey Tribe is born of the net and has never existed outside of it.

The Grey Tribe is beginning to find its voice and assert its identity as something separate from the Blue Tribe most of its members still probably consider themselves part of. We’re witnessing its birth pangs in the recent Internet cultural strife, and I expect this is only the beginning.

The Internet Mobilizes Tribal Voices

Angry Mob

The Internet has made possible a kind of activism that doesn’t rely on community organizers or shady bankrolling billionaires. It’s a truly grassroots form of activism where leaders are emergent and wield authority only so long as the participants agree to obey. Technology both enables and molds these movements. These organizations are completely uncoordinated and genuinely independent of top level guidance. They begin as expressions of anger but once formed can turn in unpredictable directions due to their disorganized emergent nature.

Nothing like these movements could ever develop before the age of social media, which enables the way they develop virally and function without infrastructure or direction. Social media and it’s peer-to-peer nature break the traditional monopolies and enable connections between those with strong shared interests. Diffuse minorities can congregate online and magnify their voice in ways that weren’t even dreamed of prior to the birth of the net. These kinds of movements are a brand new social technology and they are rapidly evolving.

The Red, Blue, and Grey tribes have now each launched a grassroots Internet-enabled rebellion in the direction of a Schelling point that drew their rage, but their targets varied greatly as did the outcomes. The three movements were similar bottom-up expressions of inchoate rage, but they targeted different parts of  the establishment and used very different tactics.

Three Internet Insurgencies

The Red Tribe revolt took place first. In 2009 the Tea Party movement emerged onto the national scene as a grassroots expression of dissatisfaction with high taxes and big government. It acted via politics, supporting and running anti-establishment candidates for office in mostly Republican primaries. While it has made not inconsequential gains and has successfully pulled the Republican party in a more libertarian direction, its focus has mostly petered out and been co-opted by Republican establishment figures. As a movement the Tea Party is a shell of itself. It used the Internet to mobilize but fought its foe on the hostile ground of politics, which is sort of like launching a land war in Asia.

In 2011 a Blue Tribe revolt took place. Occupy Wall Street was a left-driven movement against social and economic inequality. It focused its rage mostly against the Wall Street banks that had benefited from the 2008 financial crash. It lasted only a few months and its hazily communicated goals were unrealized. The physical occupations were disbanded by police and the movement mostly dissipated. Today it exists mostly overseas, notably represented by the current Hong Kong protests that have been dubbed ‘Occupy Admiralty’ by some. Occupy failed because it could not coalesce behind goals that were accomplishable via means that it possessed. The voices were too diffuse, and its focus on physical gatherings was outlast-able.

In 2014 it became the Grey Tribe’s turn to launch a rebellion. GamerGate is an expression of rage by Grey Tribe libertarians, nerds, misfits, and techies against Blue Tribe encroachment onto their gaming hobby and against their expression. This is no overnight phenomenon, gamer rage against so-called “social justice warriors” has been simmering for years.

Anti-Sarkeesian gamer produced video from 2013

Ten years ago the gaming community faced Red Tribe censorship threats from Jack Thompson‘s group aimed at violence in games, and faced them down. Now the threats of censorship are similar but come from the Blue Tribe concerns about sexism rather than Red Tribe pleading against violence. What complicates matters is that this time the gaming journalists are on the side of the forces of censorship rather than on the side of gamers.

The dispute might have just continued simmering, but the gaming media outlets absolutely refused to discuss legitimate questions of their ethics, engaged in an active effort to quash the issue by naked force, then colluded en masse to declare gamers “dead”. Even 4chan itself banned discussion of the issue in an unprecedented turn of events. It’s a misconception that GamerGate is about the Zoe Quinn story, while it certainly began with that story is was not until the enforced censorship, mass declaration that “Gamers Are Dead” and the exposure of the GameJournoPros mailing list that GamerGate truly launched its rebellion in earnest and it became a full fledged tribal rebellion.

The Grey Rebellion

The Grey Tribe rebellion continues apace. History seems to be against them, given the outcome of the Blue and Red rebellions, but I believe there are significant differences in the Grey rebellion that may yet see it achieve some of the change it seeks.

Right now the GamerGate rebellion has brought its focus onto one of the companies it sees attacking it, and is using the weapon of consumer boycott to deal significant damage. Max Read of Gawker whined that GamerGate has cost Gawker thousands in revenue already and could potentially cost millions.

The Red rebellion focused its ire on government, and the Blue rebellion went after the banking establishment. Those foes were more than capable to withstand, absorb, and eventually co-opt the movements against them. The Grey rebellion however, is aimed at Blue Tribe journalism enterprises that support themselves via advertisers who seek Grey dollars. These enterprises are absolutely vulnerable to a Grey attack on their sources of funding, as the wounded yelps from Gawker’s direction may indicate.

I expect the Blue journalists to fight back via Blue media opprobrium, they have been fighting that way and it’s not working but I would expect them to double down on that tactic because they misjudge their opponents.

Screen Shot 2014-10-27 at 12.30.45 AM

Their projection convinces them that their opponents fear social ostracization, as any Blue Tribe member would. They fail to understand that most members of the Grey Tribe have long become used to social ostracization, they seek approval only from their friends in the Grey Tribe and the wider society’s opinion is immaterial to them. Gamers specifically have long been targets for mainstream bullies and are pre-inoculated against this tactic.

Will the Grey Tribe succeed at doing significant damage to their Blue journalistic enemies? It certainly seems possible. I expect an outpouring of vitriol from the mainstream media will only embolden them. Gamer are used to facing greater challenges as they progress in a game, so to expect them to discourage easily is a significant underestimation. The GamerGate tactic of applying economic pressure to its targets via advertisers can succeed if it continues, and it will as long as the media keeps foolishly adding fuel to the GamerGate fire with threats of censorship.

UPDATE: Now go read this related and highly relevant post “Moving Beyond Hit-And-Run Warfare: How #GamerGate Can Actually Win”

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The Rise Of The Grey Tribe

Everyone knows America has two cultures. Ever since the bitterly contested 2000 Bush v. Gore election we’ve referred to “Red States” and “Blue States”. The states in question of course aren’t monolithically “Red” or “Blue” but the color describes the dominant culture of the population of those states. Red and Blue are more clearly thought of as tribes. Scott Alexander describes the American Red & Blue tribes in one tiny bit of his terrific #longread about outgroups:

The Red Tribe is most classically typified by conservative political beliefs, strong evangelical religious beliefs, creationism, opposing gay marriage, owning guns, eating steak, drinking Coca-Cola, driving SUVs, watching lots of TV, enjoying American football, getting conspicuously upset about terrorists and commies, marrying early, divorcing early, shouting “USA IS NUMBER ONE!!!”, and listening to country music.

The Blue Tribe is most classically typified by liberal political beliefs, vague agnosticism, supporting gay rights, thinking guns are barbaric, eating arugula, drinking fancy bottled water, driving Priuses, reading lots of books, being highly educated, mocking American football, feeling vaguely like they should like soccer but never really being able to get into it, getting conspicuously upset about sexists and bigots, marrying later, constantly pointing out how much more civilized European countries are than America, and listening to “everything except country”.

The Red Tribe and the Blue Tribe existed long before the 2000 election, of course. In fact these two American tribes pre-date their own nation. They have both existed and been at each other’s throats for a thousand years. Their bitter fight has erupted into open mass warfare three (count em, 1 2 3) times, and their cultural struggle has never ended.

Scott goes on from describing the Red and Blue tribes to briefly and parenthetically mention a third tribe, the Grey Tribe:

(There is a partly-formed attempt to spin off a Grey Tribe typified by libertarian political beliefs, Dawkins-style atheism, vague annoyance that the question of gay rights even comes up, eating paleo, drinking Soylent, calling in rides on Uber, reading lots of blogs, calling American football “sportsball”, getting conspicuously upset about the War on Drugs and the NSA, and listening to filk – but for our current purposes this is a distraction and they can safely be considered part of the Blue Tribe most of the time)

Partly formed? Someone should do something about that.

The Grey Tribe Is Born

via flickr user LaCrossian

RonPaulf the Grey (via flickr user LaCrossian)

Greys are a libertarian-minded tribe of live-and-let-livers. They tend to dwell online, often adopting shifting pseudonyms and communicating with each other on forums and anonymous imageboards. Amongst the Grey Tribe one would expect to see higher levels of internet savvy, fondness for tech gadgetry, and disillusionment with traditional politics. They support privacy and anonymity, and oppose the NSA surveillance regime. Edward Snowden is a Grey Tribe hero. They revere open source, strongly support an open internet, and it is by no means exaggeration to describe them as free speech fundamentalists.

Greys tend to have nomadic tech industry jobs. Many are freelancers or entrepreneurs. They engage online and don’t congregate geographically as thickly as the other tribes do, except for their noticeable clusters in San Francisco and other technology hubs. They speak in nerd/geek/gamer lingo and signal membership to each other with Internet cultural tropes and catchphrases. All three of the tribes have found a home on the internet but the Grey Tribe is born of the net and has never existed outside of it.

Many of the Grey Tribe self-identify as Blue, agreeing with Blues on many social issues while feeling disagreement with the Blues in areas economic and opposing Blue efforts to enforce political correctness. A few self-identify as Red, strongly agreeing with small government and 2nd amendment rights, but usually feeling strong antipathy or at best ambivalence toward Red social issues like opposition to gay marriage and abortion. Other Greys adopt the libertarian mantle, and many Greys disavow politics entirely. Despite their own failure so far to self label as such, the Grey Tribe does exists as its own independent culture, overlapping in areas but remaining distinct from the Red and Blue cultures.

The Grey Tribe has existed as long as the Internet but in the last few decades a generation has grown up on the internet and on its Grey Tribe culture. The numbers of the Grey Tribe have swelled while the cultural and economic power of the Grey Tribe has also risen along with the power and prestige of the tech industry. Grey industries and cultural products have now entered the mainstream and with entry to the mainstream comes conflict with existing power centers.

The Grey/Blue Conflict

The emerging Grey Tribe is the result of a schism within the Blue Tribe, who have all but won their long war against the tired & woeful Red Tribe. Greys in many ways are moderate Blues, in that they agree with the general Blue cultural positions on gay marriage and abortion but reject Blue economic and cultural extremism. Many of the technology stories of the recent past are best interpreted as part of a Blue/Grey conflict between Grey freedom of expression and moral values.

Classical Grey libertarianism is assailed as “brutalist” by Blue left-libertarianism. The Grey technology industry is mostly fallen to a Blue insurgency war under the cry of “More women in the industry!”. Grey science fiction fandom has been wracked by Blue-instigated civil war. Grey organized Internet atheism has witnessed a breakaway of schismatics in deep Blue Atheism+. And even the apolitical Grey gamers are now under Blue assault.

These varied fights are not separate, they’re the multiple fronts of a single large scale tribal culture war that the Blues are currently waging against the Greys for not being Blue enough. Each of these fronts has simmered independently but of late, especially with regard to GamerGate, the conflict has become so hot that the fronts are bleeding into each other. This war shouldn’t be confused with the mainstream Blue vs. Red culture war, which is all but over, this is a brand new culture war by the Blues against a different opponent and it takes place almost entirely on the Internet.

As they become more aware of the larger picture and notice the other fronts, the Greys will begin to see that each of their fights has deeper stakes and is part of the larger important struggle to maintain their Grey culture. The Blues may have overstepped and awakened a sleeping giant. This war may be what results in the Greys flexing their might and explicitly asserting their independence from the Blues.

Could the rise of the Greys be the rise of a new participant in the thousand year war? Will the Reds survive as more than a southern regional culture if that happens? Will the Blues instead succeed at snuffing the Greys out in their crib?

Stay tuned. It’s an interesting time to be a witness to history.

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Moral Panics and the Death of Fun

Hi, I’m Pax Dickinson. I’m the guy who was shamed by Gawker and fired because I made off color jokes on twitter. I’ve been quiet for the past year, but I wanted to stick my head up and talk about some troubling trends in the technology industry. This isn’t an essay about me and my moment of infamy; it’s an essay about tolerance (or, rather, the lack of it) in the tech world and how political correctness is making people fear to ‘Think Different’. If we’ve learned anything from the amazing Silicon Valley explosion that’s done so much to expand our horizons over the last thirty years, it’s that tech – and the world – needs its misfits, its rebels, and its troublemakers. Over the last few years, out of a mix of motivations (some good, some bad), the tech industry is losing the freedom that made it – and America – great. This worries me, and I want to talk about it.

After being fired last year from my job as Business Insider CTO, I went full time into building Glimpse with my co-founder Elissa. I really felt strongly that I could try to take some of the negativity and try to leverage it into building something positive for privacy and free speech. The Glimpse story is still to be concluded but having built out the infrastructure and encryption architecture successfully after a year it was time for me to move on to other things.

I also knew that I was holding Elissa back. I know my baggage was hurting the company. We were asked to insert clauses that would strip my equity if I “embarrassed” the company and it’s reasonable to assume that my presence as co-founder made other VCs shy away from us, which is heartbreaking to me because Elissa is fucking amazing and deserves better than that.

A Moral Panic On The Dance Floor

I’ve been observing the political developments in the technology scene keenly since that day just over a year ago, and what I’ve seen disturbs me. I’ve seen similar events happen to several other people, most notably in the Mozilla/Brendan Eich fiasco. This intolerance of dissenting & unpopular opinions in technology is frightening and the trend has only been accelerating. What happened to Brendan Eich, and the donglegate guys, and others is the result of a moral panic.

Mozilla - Brendan EichA moral panic doesn’t have any relation to reason. It’s a mob expression of rage against an issue that threatens the social order, usually relating to the violation of some cultural taboo. There exists a long American tradition of moral panics, from Prohibition in the 1920s, to the Red Scare of the 1950s, and most egregiously the Satanic Panic of the 1980s. People were jailed and  lives ruined over obviously false accusations made by children trying to please psychiatrists and other adult authority figures.

Brendan Eich faced a different flavor of moral panic, but I’d argue that the events are not wholly dissimilar. His donations favoring Prop 8 were a blasphemy against the reigning orthodoxy (despite it winning a majority of the vote at the time), and he was forced to resign from the organization he founded despite his amazing accomplishments and impeccable technological credentials, and despite a long track record of working well with all manner of diverse employees and co-workers.

I see the current GamerGate uproar as a pushback against a related ongoing moral panic, this one against ‘sexism’ in video games. The video gaming press has launched a moral shaming attack against their own readers for their perceived sexism, but unlike the previous moral panics the gaming community has refused to cower before the onslaught and has risen up in rebellion against the accusations.

I’m far from the only one to notice this general trend towards moral shaming. Joel Kotkin wrote an article on the topic for the Daily Beast back in June entitled, “Watch What You Say, The New Liberal Power Elite Won’t Tolerate Dissent”:

The new liberal ruling elite, a mix of academics and cultural powerbrokers, is like the old clerical orders—wielding its wealth and power to enforce “truths” and punish dissenters.

Today’s Clerisy attempts to distill today’s distinctly secular “truths”—on issues ranging from the nature of justice, race and gender to the environment—and decide what is acceptable and that which is not. Those who dissent from the accepted point of view can expect their work to be simply ignored, or in some cases vilified. In the Clerical bastion of San Francisco, an actress with heretical views, in this case supporting a Tea Party candidate, who was pilloried, and lost work for her offense.

Kotkin’s ‘Clerisy’ believes that ‘incorrect’ opinions should be punished and driven from the public square. We’ve seen this happen in media, to people like Rick Sanchez and Anthony Cumia. We’ve seen this on university campuses, where FIRE has done so much good work defending freedom of speech and diversity of thought against would-be cultural censors. In the past year we’ve begun seeing it in the tech industry as well, and right now the video gaming scene is facing the same kinds of attacks.

Pull Over, This is the Moral Police

When Valleywag posted their story about me, they dug through years of tweets to find the ones most damaging to take out of context, mostly tweets that had been posted years before to an audience of two dozen friends. The most damaging tweet was a 3edgy5me reference to long forgotten celebrity gossip item I had tweeted several months before I began working at Business Insider. The author of the article pointedly referred to my employment status to directly imply I should be terminated immediately. As I was, the next morning.

It’s common to make comments around friends that one wouldn’t want widely distributed. Have you ever tweeted in jest about how badly you need a drink? Your friends who know you rarely imbibe to excess might chuckle, but how would that comment come across at a child custody hearing? What if it featured on the front page of Gawker, juxtaposed with five other tweets about heavy drinking, carefully cherry picked from thousands of tweets over years of social media use? What might your boss and your co-workers think? What would your neighbors think?

Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 1.56.26 AMWhile I certainly regret some of the tweets that I agree went too far and were offensive, this was speech on the internet. No one was physically harmed by my tweets. Relief was never more than a Block button away. I never tweeted at people who didn’t want to hear from me, no one had to read my tweets without opting in.

No one at Valleywag ever attempted to contact me, before the article went up or afterwards. In the following days, I was declared by literally every media organization that I have ever heard of, and many that I haven’t, to literally be The Devil. CNN hilariously posted a picture of me in a Halloween costume wearing horns. Other outlets used a different Halloween pic of me as a brogrammer with a popped collar. (Don’t tweet pics of your Halloween costumes kids. It’ll come back to bite you. Trust me.)

Reporters contacted anyone who had recommended me on LinkedIn. I was a trending twitter topic, the “Sexist Tech Bro Nightmare”. I got dozens of death threats, which I didn’t take seriously, but it was still disquieting to receive threats, and it says something disturbing about the vindictiveness of the Clerisy when their social norms are transgressed.

The thesis of the media coverage was that I had retrograde opinions about women, and couldn’t work with them.  I can understand, I suppose, how they reached these conclusions from a handful of tweets, but ironically the reality is the exact opposite of the story they drew.

I have a long, long record of successfully working with women, working for women, and having women working for me. At Business Insider I reported to a woman, and I had a female developer working for me the entire three years I was there. We got along terrifically. I’m still friends with the developer. When I’m asked for professional references, I provide glowing recommendations from three women. No one has ever alleged that I engaged in improper behavior at work, or with regards to employment and hiring. If the Clerisy could have found someone, they would have, and Lord did they try.

think different skull

Let’s Stop Firing People For Expressing Themselves

I expressed opinions and reporters went through my life with a fine toothed comb looking for further dirt to pin on me. They dug into my personal life, and they dug into my professional past. They found nothing. An army of reporters couldn’t find a single shred of evidence that I was ever guilty of sexism at the office or had anything but a happy home life with my wife of 16 years. So while I am certainly guilty of being a troll and while I certainly am a complete idiot to have made all of this possible, I have a great track record where it matters most, with the people I worked side by side with every day to build great things, and with my family.

My career has been irretrievably damaged. I’ll always have trouble finding a job. It used to be easy for me but even a year later I find that recruiters shy away and applications to jobs I’m well qualified for don’t result in a call back. I’m not worried, I know that with enough time I’ll find someone who doesn’t mind my notoriety given my skills, but I’ll always pay a very real price for this whole incident. I can certainly accept that for myself, but I hate to see the tech industry that I grew up respecting for its freewheeling style and embrace of eccentric freethinking degenerate into moral gray goo. This issue is far bigger than me and my career.

If the tech industry gets rid of its iconoclasts, if it expels its rabble rousers, if it Bans Fun, will it even be the tech industry we treasure any more? Can technology remain an innovation engine when “Think Different” is punished by an informal social blacklisting at the hands of the Clerisy? Did we build an Internet to foster free speech and let it be taken over by Mrs. Grundy, to use in whipping up mobs to voice her moral disapproval?

And my God, are we going to also let this happen to video games, of all things? Have these people no decency? Shall we draw a line here, at GamerGate, before we have nowhere left to go? Will we let those who seek to turn the pastime we love, a hobby about Fun, into a hobby about ‘Social Justice’?

I don’t mind if they make games about the things they like. I want everyone to have the same freedom to make what they like, and play what they like, without being lectured or oppressed for making those choices. We can all make wonderful things, together or separately, in gaming and in the tech industry as a whole, but if we choose to purify the world of heretics instead, it comes at the cost of innovation. It comes as the cost of great products. It comes at the cost of Fun.

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