Merchant: In the new crush RFK Jr., Silicon Valley sees itself

Merchant: In the new crush RFK Jr., Silicon Valley sees itself

The archetypal hero of Silicon Valley is the founder from humble beginnings – the one who, through grit, sweat and genius, unleashes a world-changing idea from his garage. It’s hard to imagine anyone more opposed to that formula than a descendant of the country’s most powerful political dynasty. However, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., notorious anti-vaccine crusader and presidential candidate, is the city’s toast among the elite tech set.

It was championed by Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, promoted at a live audio event hosted by Elon Musk, and embraced by venture capitalist podcasters David Sacks and Chamath Palihapitiya, who not only endorsed Kennedy for the Democratic nomination, but also launched it a fundraiser. LimeWire creator Mark Gorton set up a superpac with $500,000 they are buying newspaper ads for the candidate.

So why would Silicon Valley, which ostensibly prides itself on disruption and looking to the future, embrace a figure who not only exudes old money and hails from the more established political establishments, but also holds strongly anti-technology and anti-tech views? anti-science?

Why, just a decade and a half after embracing the Obama-Biden ticket – in 2008, Google’s chief executive was baffled by Obama, Musk sent in donations and co-founder of Facebook left the company to work on his campaign – are the loudest voices in Silicon Valley supporting a man who just claimed that the Wi-Fi causes cancer and who The New York Times newspaper described as “a headache for Biden”?

The answers reveal a lot about the state of our politics and the state of our tech titans.

The first reason is pretty obvious: COVID and vaccine denial is in vogue with a prominent subset of Silicon Valley’s powers that be.

Kennedy has spent the past two decades as one of the leading voices of the anti-vaccination movement, claiming a (spurious) link between vaccines and autism. So when COVID hit and that specific brand of skepticism met with much broader buying, RFK Jr. was ready for prime time. He was kicked Instagram out for spreading misinformation but embraced by figures like Tucker Carlson, as the right’s flirtation with anti-vax politics flourished.

It was also around this time that Musk also became a prominent COVID skeptic; in the early days of the pandemic, Musk tweeted this “coronavirus panic is stupid”, predicted that we would be heading for “zero new cases” by the end of April 2020, and even initially refused to close a Tesla factory like these stubbornly assembled cases. Since then, even after he was proven wrong, Musk has clung to a similar lineage of reactionary COVID politics that, if not necessarily directly descended from the right-wing’s vociferous anti-mask rally, is similar to it.

Dorsey, the Silicon Valley figurehead who Kennedy most fully endorsedIt was also cozying up to anti-vaccine opinions lately, although he has long embraced other questionable health fads and self-appointed gurus. In his first interview since Musk took over Twitter, he explained that he only became aware of Kennedy earlier this year. Dorsey told the hosts of the “Breaking Points” program on YouTube that he devoted himself to Kennedy’s candidacy after “sort of going through all of his podcasts — almost every episode.”

Less conventional tech figures like LimeWire’s Gorton and Founder of InfoSeek, Adam Kirsch, fully embraced the anti-vax movement — and RFK Jr. Now, dubious scientific beliefs aren’t exactly rare in the region – Stanford University founding president David Starr Jordan was an important eugenicist, in the end — but in recent decades, Silicon Valley’s most public figures have worked to cultivate an air of science-based beneficence.

Those days seem to be long gone, and Silicon Valley’s most visible celebrities – most notably Musk and his cohort – are openly turning to dark, conspiratorial and reactionary ideas, rather than trying to sell the public an upbeat brand of “don’t be evil”. . ” make future. This drift naturally aligns with Kennedy’s current MO.

The second reason we’re seeing a wave of interest from tech executives in Kennedy is even more irksome: political play.

Sacks, one of Musk’s biggest supporters and a staunch supporter of Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantislikely has political reasons for supporting Kennedy’s primary effort – he is a lifelong Republican and a major donor to the effort to remember Gavin Newsom. Not very skeptical of COVID and not a natural ally of Kennedy’s anti-corporate views, Sacks is evidently helping to prop up Kennedy because he knows it’s embarrassing for President Biden to see an opponent with double-digit votes, forcing him to spend resources to deal with the threat.

(in a tweetSacks denied having “cynical” reasons for supporting Kennedy and laid out reasons for his support, including his declaration of embracing free speech and ending wars.)

As Axios pointed, support from Sacks, Chamath, and other tech elites “could help close the money gap and keep Kennedy in the race longer than a typical long shot.” It’s a power play, in other words – if perhaps misjudged, like DeSantis keep fighting at the polls.

kennedy It is a bitcoin advocate – he made his first presidential campaign event at a cryptocurrency conference – so there are at least something that the technology set can point to as a plausibly forward-looking area of ​​interest. (Kennedy’s critics pointed out the absurdity of a lifelong environmental advocate embracing bitcoin, a tremendous energy drain and contributor to climate change. He also spoke out against windmill farms and other vital green infrastructure.)

With cryptocurrency in the gutter, however, and the biggest exchanges facing complaints and accusations of fraud from the Securities and Exchange Commission, it’s hardly an upward voting bloc and unlikely to overshadow its weird anti-tech musings on other fronts. Last week, on Joe Rogan’s podcast, Kennedy said that exposure to Wi-Fi opens up the blood-brain barrier and causes cancer.

Kennedy supporters in Big Tech also no doubt admire his bombshell unorthodoxy, something they imagine they possess as well. RFK Jr. is fighting corporations, Big Pharma, his own complacent political party, the establishment – even if he It is the establishment. Which is actually a pretty good summary of the modern mindset of Silicon Valley, and probably the main reason the Kennedy campaign is resonating so deeply there.

It’s been a long time since Palo Alto could be called an underdog in any capacity, rather than the ultimate locus of American power and wealth. Not unlike Kennedy himself, Silicon Valley is completely saturated in both and operates from a position of unimaginable privilege – and therefore must manufacture roadblocks and detractors to maintain the illusion that it is a disjointed force for constant disruption. kept under control by other constituted powers.

This was already an illusion in the Obama era, when Facebook, Google and Tesla focused on the candidates’ inspiring message of transcendence – Big Tech was already big, if not as big and very powerful. Kennedy’s rise is an occasion to recognize that the ideological alliance between the valley and liberal politics has always been exaggerated and always more transactional than aspirational.

The late-2000s tech suite donated to the Obama campaign and offered their social media tools and kudos, and Obama rewarded them with grants from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and two presidential terms of furry treatment when it came to regulation and antitrust policy. And he was right to trumpet the innovation displayed there, feeding the myth in the process. Musk donated to Obamaof course, but during the same campaign cycle, he donated to the Republican National Committee also. (Musk grabbed a $465 million government loan to Tesla at a crucial time and years of cooperation with management in return.)

Silicon Valley is like any other power industry in this regard — its lobbyists, public figures and attention-seeking executives try to guess which way the wind is blowing and place their bets accordingly. In 2008, when it fell to the sector to echo the appeals for change, hope and progress, it was there that it mobilized its resources. Now, after many of the giants, enjoying the fruits of the Obama years, have ossified into monopolies, scandals and crashes have tarnished the region’s reputation, and new innovations such as cryptocurrencies have failed, the industry, as powerful and rich as ever, finds on uncertain cultural terrain.

In Kennedy, the valley’s power players see a familiar face, and they see a lot of themselves – the scrappy fighter of his wayward startup founder, taking over the establishment from the comfortable confines of the same establishment. Although with increasingly dark and reactionary policies.

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