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Silicon Valley's unique politics explained, in 6 charts - Vox

Silicon Valley s unique politics explained in 6 charts Vox

Silicon Valley s unique politics explained in 6 charts Vox


At their absolute core, Silicon Valley types are extreme idealists: They believe there is always a better solution that is great for nearly everyone. Life is just a matter of discovering great ideas through conversation, innovation, and education. Eighty-seven percent of founders believe that education can solve all or most of every problem in society, from violence to partisanship. Thirty-five percent believe that military enemies can resolve their differences through dialogue alone. And, perhaps most importantly, there is near unanimity in the belief that change eventually makes things better, because society learns from its mistakes (70 percent).

"It’s the hacker ethic that a lot of problems in the world are information inefficiencies" —Facebook founding president Sean Parker (personal communication)

The conclusion I've come away with is that Silicon Valley represents an entirely new political category. It is a libertarian-like ideology within the Democratic Party. It loves competition and capitalism, but believes the government has an essential role in empowering every person to give their best to society. People and organizations that can contribute more deserve more resources.

Traditional Democrats tend to see the government as a protector from the whims of capitalism, while Silicon Valley liberals see the government as an investor. The government competitively funds citizens to solve problems in a way that an agency never could have imagined. This helps explain the Silicon Valley elites' obsession with charters: publicly funded, unionless, and highly experimental schools.

This belief is closest to what political scientists call communitarianism, the theory that active communities can solve problems better than either the market or the government alone. For instance, a communitarian might choose a neighborhood watch over more police or a carpool system over public transit.

And, indeed, this is not unlike what the ride-hailing industry has done by adding a carpool component to its smartphone apps, part of a long-held dream of Lyft's executives to reduce cars on the road through mass carpooling.

In essence, it is a civil society completely oriented toward innovation. They don't see conflicts between citizens, the government, big corporations, or other countries — just one big mass of people coming up with mutually beneficial solutions as fast as possible.

These utopian ideas are not entirely new. They've been around for a long time. But the economy is empowering these idealists like never before, and the Democratic Party is evidently the political vessel they've chosen to make it a reality. And given the amount of money they have to spend, and the kind of Democratic talent they are now buying — David Plouffe now works for Uber, and Jay Carney works for Amazon — traditional Democrats may soon find themselves on the wrong side of the disruption.

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Exactly right.

Communitarianism. First time I've heard that word. 

Eh, this is just one side of the coin. I would say that the other side is that people here believe that if you don't get on board with their ideas, you deserve to be left behind because you're not rational enough and therefore not part of the community of problem-solvers. So let's say you're a single mom who can't get her kids to a charter school every morning on the bus and maybe thinks programming is not the end-all be-all of education. Well sorry, you have to be marginalized now because you're not INTERESTED in finding new SOLUTIONS. If you really cared, you'd set up a Kickstarter to fund a community carpool that COULD get all the smart kids to school on time to learn programming! For the future of the children! DUH!

I have had endless conversations exactly like this with people about, say, education. The point is that people here have the means to define their "community" by exactly the boundaries they choose. Have you ever seen how many people in the most affluent communities, like Woodside or Cupertino, don't send their kids to public school? Why pay extra money to live in the towns with the best public schools in the nation, and then pay even more for private school? Well... because they can. Why define your community as 30,000 citizens with 3,000 kids when you can define it as 3,000 WEALTHY citizens with 300 kids? Guess whose test scores are a lot better? And guess whose senior teachers are eligible for Habitats for Humanity homes because they don't make a living wage?

Pretty sure that if we're free to slice off only the subset of the body politic that appeals to us, we can all be called "communitarians"!

Obviously there is a kernel of truth in your amusing hot take, but I think what you're not acknowledging is that there are important gradations in terms of who seems to learn productively from this experimental mindset versus those who don't. 

For all that this article headlines them, actually I have come to admire both Bill Gates and Zuck for walking back some of their naive excitement about charter schools after seeing the data over time. They both seem to have realized that no education solution matters THAT DOES NOT SCALE -- which is a core tech-entrepreneur idea -- and scale requires real buy-in from a lot of constituencies.

Scaling education is so hard because so many people have so many different opinions.

I guess this is why there can be no universal solution.

There didn't used to be universal solutions to search & advertising (Google), realtime communication (Twitter, Messenger, Slack), social blogging (Facebook), retail (Amazon), good taxis (Uber, Lyft), finding vacation rentals (AirBnB), airline reservations (Kayak et al), infrastructure utility (AWS), etc.  Statements that "there can be no universal solution" are challenges and very likely to be proven wrong soon.

Scaling education is hard in some ways for fundamental reasons, but it can scale far better than it has.  It mostly doesn't scale because we are doing it wrong.  We're also likely focusing on the wrong things: While I hope we learn a lot from experimentation in charter schools, I don't believe creating a parallel school system to public schools is a good answer.  Properly prepared and nurtured students (which is not yet a deterministic thing, but happens) can do very well in public school.  I'm almost all self taught, which started substantially in high school.  After raising a number of children, trying to instill a similar mindset, I believe that a big element of the problem is culture: We don't expect and universally value self-directed self-improvement.  Right now, school is where learning happens so people assume that non-school is for using what you know or wasting time.  Formal school is often the worst way to learn, except for lack of learning altogether.  We need public schools to keep the momentum of learning going and pull people along, but the bulk of learning should be self-directed, wide-ranging, interactive, challenging, and extend far beyond the formal boundaries as frequently as possible.  Fix the cultural assumptions & patterns, make it easy, efficient, and attractive, and value actual results and we'll greatly improve education.  Improving education tends to improve everything else, so it is a very important problem to solve.

The other aspect of scaling is that we need a system of fractal teaching: everyone should be willing to help others learn, grow, and get past the little obstacles to understanding.  Somewhat who just learned something can serve as a mentor to those just behind them; doing this, they both benefit and learn better.  Given this, education can scale.  Right now, we shackle everyone to inefficient, real-time, mostly same-place learning just so a teacher is available to carry students over those obstacles.  Most of that can be factored out while still maintaining and probably boosting availability of the teaching & mentoring needed to complement automated material.  And we need widely authored automated material to address the rapidly evolving long tail of educational needs.

Solving much of this is what we're working on at

I don't have kids, but my brother is a high school teacher and I agree with Adam. The problem in America is that we have remarkably little agreement about what we think a "good education" means -- and without a common goal to shoot at, how can we possibly come up with methods to get there?

I would say that America in my experience is the nation with the LEAST agreement on the goals of education... and I'm not at all sure that can ever be fixed. We argue about whether kids should learn the times table, whether taxpayers should have to pay for charter schools and homeschooling for kids from extreme religious backgrounds, whether kids should have play time at school, whether kids should wear uniforms, whether a humanistic education is realistic for the masses or whether a career-oriented education is more accessible, even whether kids who didn't have breakfast should get to eat one on school time. In my experience traveling and reading, these issues have MUCH MUCH more consensus in almost every other country!

I applaud what you're doing with ChangeMyPath, but that's for ADULT education right?

We are aiming to solve the problem of gaps in adult job skills and non-university adult learning in general.  There are many efforts aiming at K-12, university-like education (including MOOCs, which we will overlap and extend), and some other specific areas.  Initially, we're aiming at this large unsolved gap, because it is hard, unserved, and it will most vividly test whether we have solved what we are setting out to solve.  While we have extra features to serve this group, our resulting system ought to be widely usable.

There are a number of people who question or disagree with everything.  Whether they have influence is about what produces results.  Common Core is a very clear body of knowledge about what should be learned for K-12.  Universities have long had standards about what should be learned for various degrees.  We're missing reliable and accessible education on most other things, although industry standards exist for various specific areas like information security.  There is a lot of confusion about liberal education vs. job prep: We need most people to have both, although perhaps not necessarily with the ordering and granularity that traditional structures require.  In particular, liberal education is something that should be ongoing which might mean that job training could be completed earlier.

I alluded to confusion about the boundaries, limits, and general goals around learning.  The whole public / charter / homeschooling / religious side of things are really side issues: you could teach well or poorly regardless of setting, funding, or window dressing.  What counts is content, skills and goals of personnel involved, and most of all the management of motivation and cultural evolution of students.  Funding, breakfast, accessibility, and other similar issues are related to the efficiency, determinism, and effectiveness of education.  A clearly successful and highly efficient educational system would easily be funded while an inefficient and uncertain system will be drained.  We need to concentrate on fully revolutionizing education now that we're examining it closely.

You're right that I was overly negative when I said there can be no universal solution. 

But whew you have me appreciating how complex the problem is. 

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