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Here is a translation of Altman's message from powertalk into english:

"Dear feminists and rabble rousers, we recognize your power. We are on your team. We will genuflect in the direction of those things you consider holy. Please don't target us."

(For those unfamiliar with the term, "powertalk" is the in-group language of powerful people.)


YC is attempting to appease the internet bullies and avoid unwanted media attention (witness the Paul Graham sexism non-incident), not convey facts.

This is a really unfortunate comment. The actual points it makes are superficial and, unusually for you, not backed by anything other than anecdote. It's mean-spirited. And most importantly, it's written in a way that can't possibly persuade anyone who isn't already on your side. You're too smart to believe you're trying to communicate here, so I'm left believing you're writing this comment just to stick a fork in people's eyes.

I know this doesn't mean anything because I'm just some random Internet stranger you don't actually know, but as someone who has stuck up for your comments in the past, I've been made to feel embarrassed by this one.

I will, of course, get over both it and, later, myself.

Lately I stick to purely factual arguments, and as a result ignore most of HN. For some reason I felt like actually having a conversation on HN today.

I don't expect this comment to persuade most people. However, I do believe the argument I'm making here, and I believe it can persuade some people. HN is a pretty good crowd. For example, over a few years, I've observed the conversation about HFT on here has shifted wildly - people occasionally cite my articles, so I think I've contributed.

I've been convinced by Robin Hanson and others that many of the public arguments made (particularly by powerful figures) are signalling of the form I describe in this post. I believe it's a good explanation of why such things are posted.

The fact of the matter is that on merit, Sam Altman's post on this topic is nonsense. It attacks a straw man and draws inference by juxtuposition. See my post criticizing it (which mostly takes the perspective that it's an honest argument):


Sam Altman is a smart guy. I seriously doubt that he wrote something so nonsensical as a real argument. The best explanation I can come up with for why so many smart people are posting silly things is like this is signalling.

I'm sorry you dislike my comment, but it is an attempt to explain my views rather than simply an attempt to "stick a fork in people's eyes".

My opinion: the comment was a little on the weak side, but the analysis on your blog is sound. In other words, I agree that this blog post is likely to be signalling. Not that I disagree with the signal being sent. It's a sensible signal to want to send!

I agree that the comment was strongly and perhaps not carefully worded but it seems this was not just a "fork in the eyes" comment", see http://www.chrisstucchio.com/blog/2014/sam_altmans_sexism_st... where yummyfajitas summarizes some good points.

You can criticize the format and language of the comment all you want but implying things like "I think you're too smart to believe in BS like this" is condescending.

Judging from its (current) grayness this seems to be a much derided point of view on HN. Why? In a previous comment Livingstone was quoted as saying this is a rare problem in (I assume) YC investor circles. Why put out a direct message like this then?

Some here have argued that it is useful because it makes things unambiguous and simple. I think the people who condone and/or engage this behavior (e.g. the kinds that are exemplified in the Forbes article) don't do so because they don't know any better or because "the rules of engagement" were not clearly stated in this regard.

So I think at least part of the motivation behind putting out a message like this explicitly, rather than including in, say, an investor legal agreement, has to be the desire to preempt allegations based on this point.

Rare is not the same as unimportant.

And it's exactly because the people engaging in this behavior know and disregard the "rules of engagement" that it's important to let them know that they will have more to lose.

And the way you do that is by stating it publicly, making YC itself accountable to the public and forcing them to actually act. That way, it's harder for such investors to convince themselves that when push comes to shove, YC wouldn't actually do anything.

Saying that feminists are in a position of power is utterly ridiculous.

They clearly have the power to cause trouble for tech companies. Witness Pax Dickinson, Julie Horvath, and various other incidents.

It just makes (selfish) sense for Altman to try to appease them. It's bad for the industry - showing weakness will encourage more behavior of this type. (Think about why they are targeting a bunch of unlikeable low status geeks.) But it's good for YC to encourage them to target others

Tell that to Tom Preston-Werner.

You're right; I wouldn't call it "feminists" but the "PC Police".

It's really not. Feminist ideology has permeated many levels of public institutions today -- not all, of course, but quite a few. There's a reason it's seen as the 'correct'/default viewpoint to take today; if that weren't the case, then it'd be less surprising when someone declares themselves not a feminist. There might be a long road yet ahead for feminists, but I don't think it's fair to diminish their vast and obvious accomplishments thus far; doing that just feeds into the victimization cycle that's endemic in the radical subsets of it.

It's something that everyone knows to pay lip service to, in the same way that everyone pays lip service to being "green." But are you going to say with a straight face that environmentalists are in a position of power?

We (as a country) are trying to do something about global warming are we not? Sure we have nut-job deniers and all that, but compared to many countries that legitimately do not care about "being green", the US is doing rather decently (although arguably still not good enough, but it all has to start somewhere). Holding "power" is not a zero-sum game -- having slightly less power than another slightly more predominant ideology != 'not' having power. Just because we have a democratic president does not mean republicans have no power.

Similarly feminist ideology has made itself into the american public's view of the 'ideal', and anything that opposes it as unquestionably 'bad' -- to say there's no power in that sort of collective consciousness about any issue is ignorant. Just because it's not ideal yet absolutely does not mean it's not in power -- even powerful things take time to reach their full potential. When behaviors like this YC post talks about hadn't had any negative ramifications before, but now do, that's power.

> We (as a country) are trying to do something about global warming are we not?

Only to the extent that it doesn't get in the way of the hundred priorities ahead of global warming on the list. And all the pollution that isn't associated with a hot-button issue like global warming isn't even on the radar. Coal, for example, is something that's so damaging that there aren't even nut-job deniers arguing otherwise. Yet, during one of the debates of the 2012 election, Obama was arguing with Romney about which of them was more pro-coal.

> Similarly feminist ideology has made itself into the american public's view of the 'ideal', and anything that opposes it as unquestionably 'bad'

People are quite willing to embrace ideals but take little to no inconvenient action to work towards those ideals. Feminists have "power" in the same way environmentalists do. They can win a tiny victory here and there by making particularly egregious acts public,[1] but that's the extent of it.

[1] In 2012, environmentalists in Chicago were successful in shutting down Fisk and Crawford, two coal plants in Chicago that a study showed were costing the public $127 million per year in health costs: http://elpc.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/MidwestGeneration.... Only 598 more to go!

Yes, but lets not go around bashing something that is clearly better than nothing, and needlessly belittling the accomplishments of clearly influential movements. Things will always be open to improvement, and we should focus on that, not on how little power we have (oh no!); that's exactly the type of needless victimization that gives feminism a bad name (if you're not familiar with what I'm talking about, google around for 'Suey Park').

In any case, it is still an idealistic ideology, because then at what point does it declare/define 'victory'? That's never been made very clear, and despite the massive strides it has made in the past several decades, we're still talking about it like it's some totally unknown, underdog minority issue -- where are the goal posts? That's a rhetorical question because it's not supposed to have goal posts, just like how environmentalism doesn't -- it's an ideal, one of female rights that people should definitely strive for, but let's not make it out to be some sort of clear-cut political policy that has failed to be implemented, that just does the whole movement a disservice.

> We (as a country) are trying to do something about global warming are we not?

Not really. The federal executive branch is sort of unilaterally trying to do a bit using a legal framework not specifically designed for it, Congress has no clear commitment either way (the Republican Party holding a majority in the House and mostly opposing concrete action -- some members denying GW is real, some members opposing federal government action on environmental issues that might limit immediate business opportunity generally, and others just opposing any specific proposal related to global warming without necessarily having a clear ideological framework for general opposition), and some states are trying to do some things (and some states are trying to promote things directly opposed).

As a country, there's really nothing coherent going on.

Then the fact that we have powerful regulatory bodies like the EPA, and are much better off environmentally than countries like India and China is somehow just a fluke? Global warming is an environmentalist issue, but environmentalism != coherent global warming prevention -- that's really not a small problem, and would be a tall order for any nation to fill.

> Then the fact that we have powerful regulatory bodies like the EPA, and are much better off environmentally than countries like India and China is somehow just a fluke?

The EPA does not exist to address global warming specifically. The claim I addressed was that "we as a country are trying to do something about global warming", not "we as a country are trying to do something about environmental issues more generally". Those are very different claims.

You are correct. Apologies if it appeared I was talking specifically about global warming, but the context was with regards to what the parent was addressing with "being green" and the environmentalist movement as a whole, so that was the main point I was trying to convey.

But in any case, global warming is an environmentalist issue, and the environmentalist ideology does have power -- whether or not the government has managed to take coherent action about it yet is not indicative of the significance of the issue within the nation, because like I said, it is not a simple issue to solve, and we are still doing more[0] than India and China to help it anyway. And like I said in my original comment, while there is obviously still much room for improvement, there's no need to undermine what we have done to fight it... we'd all be worse of if environmental progress completely stopped in the 60's. Still a shame that we haven't done more of course.

[0] actively regulating pollution is a form of action...

When is the last time an A-C level exec at a tech company was fired for being insufficiently green?

The premise of this question is that execs have been fired for being "insufficiently diverse" or "insufficiently feminist". But there's a difference between not believing that anthropogenic global warming is a problem that demands changes to the way industry is run, and doing things that have the overt effect of creating barriers for women in the industry.

Leaving that aside, I think you'll find that a more careful look at the Pax Dickinson drama will reveal that it's not a particularly helpful example for this thread. There was a lot of stuff happening there.

I don't see why you think Dickinson is an unrelated example. He was never accused of any misconduct beyond wearing sunglasses while disagreeing with feminists.

The fact is that feminists have power in our society and the tech industry is relatively weak. We provide a great source of symbolic victories for them.

He was never accused of any misconduct beyond wearing sunglasses while disagreeing with feminists.

This is self-evidently false, so much so that I'm confused as to how you could have written this comment.

I'm pretty sure you are confusing Pax Dickinson with someone else.



Just a bunch of tweets mocking feminists, liberals and Mel Gibson.

[edit: Tom I really don't understand how you think this disagrees with what I said above. How do these links imply any misconduct, or anything other than disagreeing with feminists? Are you asserting that opposing the welfare state or mocking Mel Gibson is what got him fired?]

> How do these links imply any misconduct, or anything other than disagreeing with feminists?

You're talking about these tweets with rape jokes, tweets where he's an asshole toward poors, and "ironic" use of the N-word?


Are you high?

You realize the "rape joke" with the N-word is mocking Mel Gibson, right? See #2 on this list:


As for the rest of it, if you want to argue that libertarianism rather than anti-feminism got him fired, square that viewpoint with Business Insider's statement about firing him. They didn't say he was too conservative, they said he disagreed with them on diversity.

Disagreeing with feminists and liberals is not misconduct. Neither is making fun of drunk celebrities.

Why should I believe Business Insider's statement?

You just refuted your own comment upthread and pretended like that was a rebuttal!

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