Silicon Valley Is Weird, A Continuing Series

The other day, I clicked through to the profile of a friend-of-a-friend on Facebook. This individual is a Silicon Valley dweller, and arguably a stereotypical one. At least, that’s how it appeared to me.

This individual had cast an early ballot in the mid-term election, and had posted a status update that revealed and invited discussion about everything he had voted on. Every senator, ballot initiative, judge, etc. This behavior – revealing in a public forum exactly how he voted and attempting to discuss it publicly with all comers – struck me as being incredibly odd. For one thing, I’m a big fan of the anonymous ballot. It’s a privilege that protects us from suffering any number of negative consequences for voting our beliefs. (Clearly, this guy wasn’t worried about the negative consequences.)

But the other thing about it is that it’s a socially awkward way to have a discussion about politics. If you get to know me (or read my blog), you’ll soon discover what my politics are. That’s mostly a function of the fact that I talk about the things I believe, I try to learn more about the issues, I try to share what I’ve learned, and I hope to learn from others. Announcing where I stand on every ballot issue on a particular election doesn’t provide a format for conversation. It’s a declaration: Look at me, look how I vote. I’m not typically very warm to the “signaling” theory of human behavior, but what else could such a thing be? Especially since, I should note, this person voted precisely along party lines.

Well, it looked like really weird behavior to me, but I just set it aside in my mind under the belief that this just happened to be a weird guy.

But then this morning I happened to be reading through the first few posts of Slate Star Codex and noticed that “Scott Alexander” had done precisely the same thing. Okay, Alexander’s blog post was a little better, since he actually provided reasoning for each one of his votes, and critical discussion in the comments section of his blog is a well-established norm. That makes this behavior much more conversant, but it doesn’t make it any less weird. I’ll happily discuss the issues with anyone; but I don’t want to go point-by-point through your ballot. WTF. It’s self-absorbed.

There are, of course, many weird things about Slate Star Codex. The most recent post is about ketamine, why the literature thinks it works to treat depression, and reasons we once thought it worked but now know to be wrong. The post itself is actually fine and even a little interesting, if you have a pharmaceutical or medical background. The comments section, though, turned into a shit-show of self-reporting on how people felt when they recreationally tried ketamine, heroin, etc., themselves.

That’s Silicon Valley culture for you, though. They do a lot of drugs and they post their election ballots on social media. If it were just some odd sub-culture, we could scratch our chin anthropologically for a moment and then go back to our lives. But this is a sub-culture with deep pockets, who have the collective ear of politicians, and who have a stated objective of nudging society toward their beliefs. We all have our own view of what we want society to be like; I don’t happen to think that making society more like an odd collection of drug-abusing swingers is a step in the right direction.

I have a lot more to say about Silicon Valley culture, but I’ll save it for future posts, as I continue to report on the trend.

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