Crowdsourcing: Patriotism vs Nationalism vs Loyalty vs ?

Looking to OTB readers for insights into an argument with which I'm struggling.

In recent months, there has been something of a backlash among Silicon Valley creatives against working for the US Defense Department, particularly in ways that contribute directly to killing on the battlefield.

In response to a recent article on the matter arguing that these people are hypocrites, in that they won’t work to save the lives of American military personnel but seem to have no qualms providing their services to help autocrats in China and elsewhere to suppress the civil liberties of their populations, I wrote,

This shouldn’t be surprising, much less viewed as hypocritical. For a variety of reasons, those who run—and especially those who code for—the technology firms of Silicon Valley have very little loyalty to the country.

Let me be clear: I’m not arguing that Hoffman’s techno-moralists are disloyal or somehow less part of “real America” than those of us who work for the Defense Department. Indeed, their contribution to America’s well-being is at least as valuable as ours. Rather, I suggest they see themselves as utterly detached from America’s wars overseas. Further, they’re unlikely to see America’s government—especially under the Trump Administration—as morally superior to China’s.

I’ve gathered substantial evidence for this proposition.

First, we have years of polling from reputable organizations demonstrating a gap in self-identified patriotism. The sort of people who work in Silicon Valley are the least patriotic across demographics: they’re younger, highly educated, and politically progressive.

Second, there is a particular culture among the creative class in the Valley that is universalist rather than nationalist. They’re interested in “doing good” for humanity rather than serving their country.

Third, the employees in question are disproportionately non-Americans who are here because that’s where the opportunities are, not because they want to become Americans.

My problem is this: terms like “loyalty to the country” and “patriotism” are inherently normative. That is, they are seen as value judgments.

I’m not at all trying to argue that they’re disloyal or somehow bad citizens. Rather, I’m trying to make an empirical case that they simply have a different worldview and are unlikely to be persuaded by appeals to patriotism or a need to “support the troops.”

Given the diversity of experience in the OTB readership, I put it to you:

  1. Is my general argument on the right track? Am I missing something important about the Silicon Valley culture or getting it wrong altogether?
  2. To the extent I’m right, is there a better way to frame the argument so that it doesn’t require numerous disclaimers?
FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Crowdsourcing
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. mattbernius says:

    So much to write on this James (as this has been a general area of background research for me for a while).

    In answer to 1, yes I think you’re moving in the right direction. If you’re really working on building this out, I highly recommend looking at Fred Turner’s book “From Counter Culture to Cyber Culture” (https://www.press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/F/bo3773600.html ) which gets at the unique forces that built Silicon Valley. Turner was a journalist before going back for his PhD so the book reads really well and fast for a work of science history.

    I think that would help refine some aspects of your argument.

    I’ll think about #2 and get back to you… I agree its really hard to avoid normative terms on this one.

    Also – I think there’s a neoliberal thing going on here as well. I mean, to some degree these individuals are acting exactly in lines with the way Adam Smith suggested they would act way back in the Wealth of Nations and the section on the conflict between unfettered capitalism and national allegiance.

    Finally – There is actually a lot of internal debate about doing things like working for autocrats in places like China at the rank and file level of technologists. It just catches a LOT less press.

  2. James Joyner says:

    @mattbernius: Thanks!

    At least for now, it’s a 1500ish word essay so I probably can’t incorporate a book-length argument but I’ll look to see what Turner has written in short form on the topic.

    And, yes, I think you’re onto something with the neoliberalism argument. Jill Lepore makes a related case in a recent Foreign Affairs piece on “A New Americanism.”

    Also, yes, I’ve seen a bit of anti-China backlash from Valley types as well.

  3. mattbernius says:

    @James Joyner:
    NYTimes to the rescue: https://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/25/arts/25conn.html

    It’s a pretty good summation of Turner’s line of thinking (as I remember it).

    I think part of the notion of why some people didn’t see an issue working with autocratic governments (beyond the financial aspects) was a fundamental belief in the liberating aspects of technology — i.e. that giving them these tools would in turn create the necessary conditions for revolution.

    Most social scientists working in/around tech have pointed out how wrong this notion is, but this, as always, tends to fall on deaf ears.

  4. James Joyner says:

    @mattbernius: Thanks! I’ve found a couple of other reviews as well but hadn’t seen that one. It’s a useful piece of framing and has the virtue of having been around quite some time.

  5. mattbernius says:

    @James Joyner:
    It’s a pretty seminal work.

    From my reading of Turner, the NYTimes review, if anything, downplays the role of techno-libertarianism in his view of the founding of the Valley. I think that’s a critical part of your discussion.

    Honestly, I think if you just scan the intro and the conclusion of the book (which tend to be easily available because of how seminal the work has become), you’ll grok everything you need for his purposes.

    Also: Thank you for that Foreign Policy article. I gave it a quick scan and I definitely want to get back to reading it when I have more time.

  6. JKB says:

    Back in 2016, I found this AEI interview with Silicon Valley journalist Greg Ferenstein to be revealing on Valley culture.

    In particular this, which I see as hinting toward a feudalist attitude

    I found crucial to what is distinct between libertarians and valley folk that Silicon Valley’s ideology is pro-market but it is not pro-liberty. Liberty is not a value. They are highly, highly, collectivist. They believe that every single person has a positive obligation to society and the government can help people or coerce people or incentive into making a unique contribution.

    If you are a believer in the government boot kicking people in the backside for “the” good, you may, after the propaganda in media and universities, have some qualms about aiding what many see as the government boot on the neck.

    Later in the interview, Ferenstein remarks on the Valley’s belief in “automated luxury communism”, essentially the robots takeover world. With the demographics of the Valley and this goal, a mean old national defense is not a priority for such people.

    What they want to do is they basically want everyone to live like they lived in college, where you get to play all day long, discover new things, you don’t have to work much, maybe you have a part time job and you just get to chill. The working phrase for this is automated luxury communism.

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  7. Teve says:

    @mattbernius:

    Most social scientists working in/around tech have pointed out how wrong this notion is, but this, as always, tends to fall on deaf ears.

    I’m old enough to remember how in the earlier days of the internet prominent technologists thought it would absolutely destroy censorship, dictatorship, etc. ‘the internet perceives censorship as damage and routes around it.’ To their credit, many people who said that sort of thing have sheepishly admitted how wrong they were.

  8. Kit says:

    Third, the employees in question are disproportionately non-Americans who are here because that’s where the opportunities are, not because they want to become Americans.

    This point, I feel, you grabbed by the wrong end. The absolute numbers will not be so high. But it is yet another way in which the high-tech class of native-born Americans differ from others: they rub shoulders with the best and brightest from all over the world.

  9. Kathy says:

    More an observation than advice:

    Patriotism is built largely on a shared set of stories and concomitant beliefs. Typically natural-born citizens of a country get exposure to these things early and often. Some of the stories are true, some are partly true, some are myths, some are fabrications or fiction (like the tale of George Washington and the cherry tree, which is fiction).

    Outsiders, in this case immigrants as well, lack the exposure and can more easily see the flaws, contradictions, falsehoods, and tell history and myth apart. They won’t be as invested in beliefs, either, so they can see when they are sincere or hypocritical more easily. This makes for a much weaker emotional attachment to an adoptive country, though it doesn’t mean they cannot adopt its interests as their own. they may even have, or be given, incentives to do so.

    And, yes, immigrants are burdened with myths and beliefs from their countries of origin.

  10. mattbernius says:

    James, definitely scan the interview JKB linked to. I think there is a LOT in that one that will be helpful.

    On key nuance is that Ferenstein is largely talking about founders versus the people underneath them. There’s still a really strong techno-libertarian direction (different from political libertarian, getting back to Turner’s work) among the rank and file.

    Also, I think (though you don’t have room to touch on it) there is a way that deeply held (deep wrong IMO) beliefs about meritocracies are at play throughout all of this too.

  11. Neil J Hudelson says:

    Second, there is a particular culture among the creative class in the Valley that is universalist rather than nationalist. They’re interested in “doing good” for humanity rather than serving their country.

    I think another aspect is the average age of a Silicone Valley technologist. Millennials, by and large, have a more globalist perspective than previous generations. And, that attitude seems to be prevalent across both millennial sub-generations (the older cohort, who experienced 9/11 and the financial crisis as the major defining moments of their youth, and the younger set whose defining ‘moments’ were the rise of the smartphone and social media).

    Related: https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20171115005572/en/Millennials-Stand-Globalism-Shape-Future

  12. mattbernius says:

    BTW, James, this 2015 article from Ferenstein looks like another good resource for you to think with:

    https://medium.com/the-ferenstein-wire/silicon-valley-s-political-endgame-summarized-1f395785f3c1

  13. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    Its not true that companies like Google and Facebook “but seem to have no qualms providing their services to help autocrats in China”. Google does not operate from China precisely because they don’t want to help the autocrats of China(In part because of opposition from their employees). And that’s extremely dangerous to them because ANY company that manages to control the market for tech in China can become a competitor for Google or Facebook in markets outside of China.

    Besides that, if you are under 40 years old you’ve had the experience of seeing the SAME people that are now trying to lecture people about patriotism and antisemitism pushing for the Iraq War. I remember that when I’ve heard that Bush wanted to topple Saddam I thought “I can’t believe that Bush would be that stupid”. He was. Like, even Paulo Coelho, that writes horrible novels, knew that the whole thing was a sham.

    There is a reason why so many people of this generation and younger are reluctant to support military ventures. There is a reason why Tony Blair became a pariah. There is a reason why so many people were reluctant to vote for a woman for voted for the AUMF against Iraq in 2002, even if she was running against a fascist mango.

  14. James Joyner says:

    @Kit:

    The absolute numbers will not be so high. But it is yet another way in which the high-tech class of native-born Americans differ from others: they rub shoulders with the best and brightest from all over the world.

    From my research:

    According to one survey, “40 percent of companies in the Fortune 500 were founded by immigrants or children of immigrants” and the rate is even higher for technology companies. A recent study of 87 privately held American start-ups valued at $1 billion or more which discovered that “more than half of them were founded by one or more people from outside the United States. And 71 percent of them employed immigrants in crucial executive roles.” Anecdotally, “One of Google’s founders is an immigrant from Russia, and its current chief executive is an immigrant from India. Microsoft’s chief executive is also from India. EBay and Yahoo were started by immigrants. Facebook’s largest subsidiaries, Instagram and WhatsApp, were both co-founded by immigrants. Apple was started by a child of immigrants.” Further, “at least 57% of workers in STEM jobs with a bachelor’s degree or higher were born outside the US.”

    Whether it’s evidence of lack of affinity for the US is debatable; that it’s incredibly disproportional isn’t.

    But that Silicon Valley brings together the best and brightest from around the world is right. It’s a pillar of my argument.

  15. Stormy Dragon says:

    The two key points you’re missing:

    1. Most Americans, from an emotional standpoint at least, no longer consider their nation to be “The United States of America”, but rather “Democrat” or “Republican”.
    2. Both soldiers and non-soldiers increasingly see the military as falling exclusively within the Republican Nation

    The military basically made the same devil’s bargain as Israel: despite enjoying widely bipartisan support, they chose to get involved in partisan politics on behalf of one party and as a result are starting to lose support of the other.

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  16. James Joyner says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    I’m skeptical of both points, although I think there’s something to 1. Why 2 seems like it could be correct, the polling has been consistent for decades: the military is the most trusted institution in America, by a substantial margin, and on a bipartisan basis. The Pew data, for example, shows very little fluctuation or difference in party on the issue from 2009 to 2018.

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  17. Stormy Dragon says:

    @James Joyner:
    From your link, there is a chart showing the partisan breakdown in trust for the military that shows they are diverging, with it going down for Democrats (currently at 76%) and going up for Republicans (currently at 84%).

    Now compare that to military support in other developed nations (also from Pew):

    http://assets.pewresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/1/2018/09/FT_18.09.04_TrustinMilitary_Whiletrustinnews.png

    The Republicans are well above the median in terms of trusting the military and the Democrats are well below the median. I think that’s the more important takeaway than the raw poll results, which are probably more reflective of social pressure to say you trust the military than they are of actual trust.

  18. Jay L Gischer says:

    I first started living and working in Silicon Valley in 1980 when I started grad school at Stanford, and I’ve been here ever since, except for the six years I spent teaching at William and Mary.

    I was quite clear when I came here that I didn’t want to have anything to do with military stuff, for two reasons: Number one – I had come up, since age 12, in a pacifistic religious tradition. Number two – Vietnam.

    Number One has only relaxed slightly, for me. I would describe myself as 95 percent pacifist. At a national level, I must admit that there are a few problems that are best solved by violence, but only a far fewer than the number for which violence gets applied as a solution. Nevertheless, I would like to assure you that these days I harbor no ill will to people who devote themselves to the military sphere, since most of the ones I’ve met understand all too well the limits of violence. They usually aren’t the problem – it’s more the people who are clueless, but still have an army to command, that deploy violence casually.

    I resist any frame that says I’m less patriotic than others. I am uninterested in serving my country through military service. Whenever political events go adversely, there’s a bunch of joking about going to Canada. I do not joke about this. I am staying here and working on making things better. All too often the person who waves the flag is posturing, and has no depth to their love of country.

    What I do think is going on is a sense of “we’re here to upset the apple cart”. Even in 9o’s before the internet, and in the 80’s too. There was this sense that to innovate, to bring new, valuable things to light, meant that there would be old things that will consequentially die. As a mindset, this does not harmonize well with government/military service, which is far more focused on maintaining the status quo.

    Many of the companies I’ve worked for, or had friends work for, are now long gone, even though they, in their day, buried yet other companies. This is what we’ve signed up for, and it affects us emotionally. We are not samurai, pledged for life to a single lord, but ronin, taking work where we can get it, and yet knowing that at some point we will move on.

    This is why it is very hard for any employer to convince us to move away. I had one such owner try to convince us to move to Indianapolis. I would probably like the city, per se, but what would happen if things went bad at the company? Where would I find a new job?

    It used to be – I had an uncle like this – that you would go to work at the plant, or the factory, and work there for your life, retiring after 30 years of service or something. That was never for us.

    By the way, Silicon Valley was also home to Lockheed Missiles and Space, and they did work this way. In fact, my neighbor when I first worked here had his name engraved on a panel on the lunar lander.

    I’m not sure age has much to do with it. I would point to something else – most of us are nerds, and that means we are not necessarily entrenched in the social power structure, but are somewhat outsiders. Even as white males. I’m speaking of engineers, not VCs. Venture capitalists are exactly the person you expect to see at the top of the pyramid, mostly.

    So a person who grows up with people he or she considers dumber, even if more powerful, in charge, there will be some distancing and separation from that power structure, such as is represented by government. Again, this is not a lack of love of the country, but a mistrust of the people running the government, whom they identify as “people who have given me trouble”.

    I think you are spot on though, with the notion that we are around people from other countries a lot more. I’ve had one historian call California, in general, the most cosmopolitan place on earth, and Silicon Valley leans into it. In our dojo over the years we’ve had Russians, Byelorussians, French, Indian, Chinese, Mexican and others. Every day I go out, I can hear someone speaking another language. Immigration isn’t a big deal, it’s what almost everyone who lives here did when they came here.

  19. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Sorry, make that “the Democrats are at the median” rather than “well below the median”. The number went from 76 to 74 in my head as I was flipping between the comment I was composing and the charts on the other browser tabs. The main point about the growing partisan divergence being more important than the absolute levels still stands.

  20. James Joyner says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Those are good points. My first thought was that the recent divergence was a function of Trump’s taking the reigns. But the difference from the European sample (granted, taken a year apart) is interesting. And it comports with the self-reported patriotism and other data that I’ve come across.

  21. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Neil J Hudelson:

    the younger set whose defining ‘moments’ were the rise of the smartphone and social media).

    People young enough to not have experienced the financial crisis aren’t millenials. The millenial generation ended in the early 2000s, although the generation that followed doesn’t have a common name yet (I’ve seen “Generation Z” and “the Homeland Generation” in several places, but neither seems to have caught on yet).

  22. KM says:

    arguing that these people are hypocrites, in that they won’t work to save the lives of American military personnel

    I hate this argument, btw.

    There is a huge difference between “working to save lives” and “making things that injure or kill” which is inherently what the military does. I say this coming from a long line of proud servicemen but the military saves lives through superior firepower, not through beneficial tech or improving conditions. Working to save the troops often means doing things to get rid of the enemy – most of the time, you “save” them by helping them kill better and a lot of people are not OK with that.

    Anything good that the troops get that eventually trickles down to the civilian worlds that’s not weapons-related can be released to the civilian world on it’s own merits; in other words, things like improvements in battlefield medicine or gear could theoretically just go to the market by their own values. If you didn’t want to be associated with an organization that (for better or worse) does harm to your fellow man as part of its core mission, why not release your invention to the public and let the military pick it up in stores like everyone else? You don’t have to work for them for them directly fro them to benefit off your work…..

  23. Neil J Hudelson says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Yes, but “experienced” isnt’ the same as “defining generational moment.” A millenial born in ’99 or 2000 was around 8 years old when the financial crisis happened, whereas an older millenial was 21 and entering the workforce.

    While smartphones were invented before 2007, and social media had started to rise, both became ubiquitous in the 2010s, when the younger cohort were entering or were well into their late adolescence.

    BTW, I didn’t create these divisions (and, like all things millennial, there’s no authoritative definition). Multiple articles have been written about how “millennial” are two generations for this reason. Here’s one, but you can find many others.

  24. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    I don’t think that the classification of “millennial” is useful. But a lot, and I say a lot, o people that were twenty-somethings in 2003 saw that the Iraq War was a sham, and these people remember that. We saw that Colin Powell was lying to the United Nations. We remember the people in their forties or fifties pushing for the war.

    There is a reason why these people are so reluctant to see the Pentagon in good light and don’t want any part with it.

  25. James Joyner says:

    @Kathy: This one got lost in some other back-and-forths but a useful explanation. It also helps with the “it’s world-view, not loyalty” thing I’m trying to differentiate.

  26. James Joyner says:

    @KM:

    There is a huge difference between “working to save lives” and “making things that injure or kill” which is inherently what the military does.

    Yes, a strong point and one I need to make more explicit in the piece. (I’m not absolutely sure the piece I’m piggybacking on makes the argument that way; I was summarizing without going back to re-read.)

  27. Kit says:

    @James Joyner:

    Whether it’s evidence of lack of affinity for the US is debatable; that it’s incredibly disproportional isn’t.

    It’s disproportional because the average foreign-born highly paid tech professional is simply superior to his American counterpart. If he were not, then he wouldn’t be invited over–we would grow our own. (And we do grow our own. Good ones.) Think of the NBA for a good parallel.

    But still, it would be a mistake (and I don’t have any numbers to back me up!) to think that foreigners make up a huge percentage of the country’s high tech workforce.

  28. mattbernius says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    Number two – Vietnam.

    If memory serves, Turner definitely touches on this in his work. The shadow of Vietnam definitely cast itself over a lot of the people working in the valley in the late 70’s and 80’s.

    In our dojo over the years we’ve had Russians, Byelorussians, French, Indian, Chinese, Mexican and others.

    Complete aside, are you using dojo here to extend your Ronin metaphor (btw, I think there’s definitely an interesting intersection between orientalist notions about samurai, ronin, and [code] ninjas and the way programmers and tech folks frame their skills) or talking literally?

    If it’s the latter, care sharing what MA you are doing?

  29. James Joyner says:

    @Kit:

    It’s disproportional because the average foreign-born highly paid tech professional is simply superior to his American counterpart. If he were not, then he wouldn’t be invited over–we would grow our own. (And we do grow our own. Good ones.) Think of the NBA for a good parallel.

    The way you’ve phrased this is confusing but I think we agree. In the NBA example, almost all the talent is home-grown. But, because it’s far and away the best basketball league on the planet, virtually all of the world’s best basketball players come here.

    I have no way of knowing whether US-born tech talent is better, worse, or the same as that anywhere else. But, with only 5% of the world’s population and the NBA of tech industry in Silicon Valley, it’s shocking that only 57% of the workforce is international.

  30. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    A point that many people forgets is that there are countries other than the United States. The Iphone was only possible because the Chinese, the Japanese and the Koreans made a lot of research and progress with screens and chips.

    Companies in Silicon Valley are global companies(They need people that understand the Indian or African markets), and just because you have an Engineering Degree does not mean that you are entitled to a job.

  31. Jay L Gischer says:

    @mattbernius: The dojo works both ways, it’s a metaphor and a reality. We study danzanryu jujitsu, founded by Seishiro “Henry” Okazaki in Hawaii in the 1920’s. I claim the same patriotism as Okazaki – who trained US GIs in Hawaii during World War 2 in hand-to-hand combat even while he was basically under house arrest as a Japanese American.

    I’ve practiced a list of “bokendo” training that he developed for this purpose. He used a wooden sword known as a bokken to train people in bayonet drill without them carrying any weapon he wasn’t allowed to touch. We carry it at port arms, for instance (for this list), which is something you just wouldn’t do with an actual sword.

    Okazaki was a very accomplished masseuse. It is said that some time in the 30’s Franklin Roosevelt visited Hawaii and got a massage from Okazaki, and then invited him to be the White House masseuse. Okazaki declined, I don’t know his reasons, but I suspect he loved Hawaii too much to leave it.

    I go into this detail because it advances one of my central points – just how cosmopolitan this place is. And despite that, Okazaki displayed many very American qualities, and was unequivocally a patriotic American.

  32. EddieInCA says:

    Dr. Joyner –

    I commiserate with your dilemma. Like the Silicon Valley people you are writing about, I, too, have a different worldview, based on years and years of being on the road.

    I love this country, and think it’s one of the better countries in the world, yet would not call myself particularly patriotic, and definitely never call myself a nationalist.

    I have traveled enough to see the serious, very serious flaws in the USA. Yet calling those out, honestly and deliberative, gets you called “un-patriotic” or “not a real American”. If you’re a person of color, the USA had, and still has problems that a large, very large, segment of the population refuses to acknowledge. (Looking at you, Pearce). The problems get glossed over and pushed further down the track. To me, one of the great patriots the last 10 years has been Colin Kaepernick. History will be kind to him, I believe.

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read articles by you , Dr. Taylor, and Mr. Mataconis and my first internal comment was “Jeez, these guys don’t get it.”. That’s not an insult, per se, but, rather, an acknowledgement that on certain topics, you three have a blind spot due to never being in a circumstance where all you were judged on is the color of your skin or your accent.

    So I get pissed and disappointed when I read conservatives talk about “real Americans”. It’s insulting. It’s code for “White Religious American”. So when anyone starts talking about Patriotism or Nationalism, I hear “White Supremacy”. Alot of people are upset when I say that, but it’s the truth.

    It’s another reason why I have a different world view.

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  33. Teve says:

    The dojo works both ways, it’s a metaphor and a reality.

    “That’s me taking the bull by the horns. It’s how I handle my business. It’s a metaphor.

    But that really happened.”

  34. Gustopher says:

    First, we have years of polling from reputable organizations demonstrating a gap in self-identified patriotism.

    “Patriot” is a word that has been usurped by the right, particularly the militia movement. A lot of folks now define it as flag waving virtue signaling, rather than a willingness to sacrifice for your country.

    You can’t rely on self-identification when there is a basic disagreement on the meaning.

  35. Gustopher says:

    In response to a recent article on the matter arguing that these people are hypocrites, in that they won’t work to save the lives of American military personnel but seem to have no qualms providing their services to help autocrats in China and elsewhere to suppress the civil liberties of their populations, I wrote,

    https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.nytimes.com/2018/08/16/technology/google-employees-protest-search-censored-china.amp.html

    I think you’re oversimplifying things to say that there are no qualms (or even fewer qualms). You may even be wrong about it being disproportionate.

    There’s a lot of money to be made in China, and a lot of people are of the “well, it’s just a little censorship, think of all the good that we do that the censorship won’t catch” mindset, partly because of the money.

    If the censorship gets too onerous, or too effective, there is a backlash against it.

    At the same time, though, people are quicker to object to government contracts for facial recognition software, since they can see the surveillance state very clearly.

  36. Jay L Gischer says:

    I just read the op-ed about Turner. I find it pretty solid, and concordant with what I said upthread: We are here to make things better, and that will entail breaking things and challenging the power structure.

    One thread that they didn’t follow up was Richard Stallman’s GNU and the open source movement in software.

  37. MarkedMan says:

    James, it’s been said a number of times above, but it’s worth repeating. Your initial statement that Tech workers “seem to have no qualms providing their services to help autocrats in China” is so far disconnected from reality that if you go with that in your piece I suspect its inaccuracy will become the focus of most of the response. Google has been mentioned above as having withdrawn from China piece by piece as demands were placed on them by the Chinese government that conflicted with freedom and truthfulness. Even Google Maps eventually had to go because they wouldn’t show Taiwan as part of the PRC or draw the boundary lines with India and Nepal where the Chinese Government demanded. But it isn’t just Google. I’ve worked in the high tech fields for years and don’t know anyone outside of defense contractors who feel comfortable having the Chinese get interested in your technology. You would not want to walk into a social situation and start bragging that the Chinese just invested in your facial recognition startup.

    I think your focus on the founders is misguided too. The founders are a tiny, tiny fraction of the workforce and once a company goes public their influence is limited. The entire high tech work force is extremely globalist in perspective, by necessity. Over the past 10 years I’ve had regular team members in every time zone in the continental US, plus India, Ukraine, the UK, Ireland, Switzerland, Germany, Brazil, Singapore, Korea, China and probably a few I’ve left out. If I go back farther that list just goes up. We are exposed all day, every day to idle conversations from people that see the US as just another country, albeit a very important one.

    Finally, the US military has damaged itself badly by its coverups and dishonesty. And I think not acknowledging this in your piece would also detract from it. Vietnam was the start for many people, but it continues to this day. It doesn’t even have to be war related. I’ve had a relative who’s been in Richland, WA for the more than two decades and so am all too aware of the regular cycle of lies concerning the Hanford Nuclear Facility (“No Problems!” -> “We are investigating!” -> “Some Small Problems, nothing to worry about” -> “Everything is now fine!” …. pause for a couple of years … New coverup of toxic and radioactive chemical leaks -> “Hi, I’m the new young handsome/beautiful liaison that sounds all-American and serious and while I can’t talk to you about how things were handled in the old days, I’m here to tell you that we are operating above board now!” -> [cycle back to the beginning] … and repeat, ad nauseam). It’s not a surprise that bright people exposed to a lot of sources of information are skeptical of the Military which, like police departments, seem to be willing to sacrifice public trust in order to cover up their own wrongdoings.

    Finally, I was fourteen when the draft ended, and turned in my selective service registration with “Filed under protest” written across it because I thought of the US military as nothing but liars. Think about it – the military went to War in a foreign country without authorization and continued to do so as the President lied about it. But even despite this, over the years I’ve felt that not serving my country in the military was a net loss for me. I love my country and the ideals it was founded on and would like to play a part in preserving then. However, last week I saw an article about the military trying to reach out to tech workers and wondered if that meant they would start accepting older coots like me, however unlikely that might be. I actually gave it some actual thought but realized that if I were to enlist I would be surrendering my own moral judgement to my military superiors and I simply didn’t have any faith that I wouldn’t be put into a position where I felt I had to blow the whistle on something sketchy.

  38. Gustopher says:

    On wording, everything you want to use has loaded meanings. Patriotic, Loyalty, Nationalist, Globalist… I mean, Globalist just means Jew more often than not.

    More-Nationalist and Less-Nationalist might be the pairing you want. It also makes the boundaries fuzzier.

  39. James Joyner says:

    @Gustopher:

    Your initial statement that Tech workers “seem to have no qualms providing their services to help autocrats in China” is so far disconnected from reality that if you go with that in your piece I suspect its inaccuracy will become the focus of most of the response.

    Again, that’s a hasty summary of another piece that I’m responding to.

    The founders are a tiny, tiny fraction of the workforce and once a company goes public their influence is limited. The entire high tech work force is extremely globalist in perspective, by necessity.

    That’s a good point. I note in the working draft that there’s a growing disconnect between the founders and the workers, linking a couple essays to that effect, but may simply scrap the focus on the founders altogether, since they’re not the ones driving this protest.

    It’s not a surprise that bright people exposed to a lot of sources of information are skeptical of the Military which, like police departments, seem to be willing to sacrifice public trust in order to cover up their own wrongdoings.

    Yes. Probably beyond the scope of my piece, but I do note that the diversion is a post-Vietnam/Watergate phenomenon.

  40. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @James Joyner: Considering what other social/political institutions exist within the United States, the fact that the Military–the institution that citizens have, arguably, the least interaction with–would be the most trusted does not make a very high bar to jump. If we were able to see the day to day operation of the military (both local and global) as closely as we see the operation of other branches of government, would we still hold the same level of trust? (And that question should not be considered rhetorical, I really don’t know the answer, but probably no one else does either.)

  41. SC_Birdflyte says:

    Just my personal opinion: “Patriotism” is a term with degrees of meaning that can be assigned by different observers. To many, the stance of Silicon Valley denizens against working for national-defense related activities is unpatriotic, but working, directly or indirectly for the interests of our adversaries isn’t unpatriotic as they choose to define it. I really can’t think of any way to define the argument except in terms of “What operational definition would you give for ‘patriotism’ and why?”

  42. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    the fact that the Military–the institution that citizens have, arguably, the least interaction with–would be the most trusted does not make a very high bar to jump.

    It’s not. One of the reasons that military coups happen is that when people lose trust in the Judiciary and in the elected representative they turn to the military. There is a joke that the only use of the Military in Latin America is to beat civilians, but in every country people say that they trust the Armed Forces….

  43. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Jay L Gischer: I felt many of the same affects in my career as a teacher because I was usually an adjunct or instructor level employee working year to year, or even term to term. I told several administrators/deans I worked for that the school had an absolute right to run the institution it wanted to run and that at a corresponding level I had the need to choose to work only for institutions at which I felt I was “a fit.”

  44. Mister Bluster says:

    @MarkedMan:..I was fourteen when the draft ended, and turned in my selective service registration…

    I was a High School Senior when I turned 18 in January of 1966 and went to the Selective Service office in the basement of the Harvey, Illinois Post Office to register as was required at the time.
    How is it that you were registered at 14?

  45. KM says:

    @Gustopher:

    “Patriot” is a word that has been usurped by the right, particularly the militia movement. A lot of folks now define it as flag waving virtue signaling, rather than a willingness to sacrifice for your country.

    Indeed. Add in the phrases “hero” and “thank you for your service” to that mix. There’s a difference between doing a job that’s military in nature and being a hero. If you’re riding a desk for 20 years, filling out reqs and only doing the occasional drill, you are not a hero and frankly, nobody should be thanking you for your service. Yes, you chose a job that *might* be more dangerous then most and has more restrictions then civilian life by you are *not* a hero – it diminishes the efforts real heroes put forth. ‘Murica has turned healthy respect for a necessary sub-culture and way of life into a fetish and shibboleth.

    @James, that’s another aspect of all this: military culture vs civilian and how the language is being appropriated. Military culture is going to value overt patriotism / nationalism far more then it’s counterparts simply because of how it’s constructed. *Of course* they’re going to place a premium on saving the lives of soldiers because that’s who forms the basis of their culture – to not do so it’s seen as an direct attack on their worth and their perspective instead of being seen as valuing humanity as a whole. It’s insular, accepting all comers but expecting to supplant the original culture from which the recruit came from. So when Silicon Valley uses words like “nationalism”, there’s absolutely connotations that are being heard that aren’t necessarily meant and vice versa. Subtle culture clash but very real – both sides using the same word but not the same context.

  46. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Kit:

    But still, it would be a mistake (and I don’t have any numbers to back me up!) to think that foreigners make up a huge percentage of the country’s high tech workforce.

    OT, but the above doesn’t mean that it isn’t a good tactic to score points for “THE WALL!1!1!!!!!1111!!!!!”

  47. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Teve: Are you mocking Jay? (that’s what I’m hearing) If so, why?

  48. Jen says:

    One thing worth considering–I skimmed and have not seen this mentioned–is that qualms over developing military technology (specifically tech that permits people to kill from afar) likely receives considerably more press here than it does in, say, more autocratic countries. In short, the fact that it is visible and reported here contributes to awareness in a way that similar (or worse) actions by others does not reflect.

    The same holds true for psychological studies that have examined this: as a free society, that information is more readily available, so the long-term ramifications are digested and discussed. It may cause self-criticism, vs. “out of sight, out of mind.”

  49. Teve says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: I can see how it could be construed as mocking Jay, but I didn’t mean anything by it. His comment just reminded me of a funny line from a movie. Apologies to Jay if it seemed like mockery. I’ve been laughing at that scene for 15 years.

  50. MarkedMan says:

    @Mister Bluster:

    How is it that you were registered at 14?

    Because I was such an amazing badass at 14 the military felt I was actually a national treasure? Not likely. I should have been clearer. I was 14 when the draft ended but was 18 when I had to register. Nothing had changed my low opinion of the military in those four years.

    However, in the ensuing 40 years, I’ve come to realize that the vast majority of the military even in Viet Nam was actually doing the same job they did saving the democratic world from the fascists in WWII. It was only the very top leadership and the politicians that caused so much damage. Which makes it all the more important that people in the lower ranks are willing to blow the whistle…

  51. MarkedMan says:

    I’d also like to chime in on the “Patriotic” issue. Republicans have overused the term to the point where it is associated with them. And, as a whole, the Republican Party definitely does not reflect American ideals, and Republican politicians certainly do not put the interests of the country ahead of their own petty interests. Unfortunately, this has devalued the term “Patriot”.

    On top of that, “Patriotism” means something different in the US than in other countries, where “Nationalism” and “Patriotism” mean the same thing. The country is the land, and the land is the country. But the US is both the land and the ideals the nation was founded on. The Republican usage of the term has made it synonymous with nationalism, which I take as being synonymous with “My country, right or wrong, and it’s never wrong!”

  52. Mikey says:

    @KM:

    Add in the phrases “hero” and “thank you for your service” to that mix.

    Argh. I seriously hate how people just toss those around, and I’ve been the recipient too many times.

    I did 20 years and actually saw some combat, and if anyone calls me a “hero” I just roll my eyes. I did absolutely nothing heroic. I did my job, just like pretty much everyone around me. There are few I would consider actual heroes, and they probably would chafe under the label too.

    “Thank you for your service” is just a toss-away phrase most of the time, too. Sure, I served, but I got paid the whole time. And I got far more out of it than I ever put in–the training, the travel, the incomparable experiences–even the sheer terror, and I wouldn’t give back a minute of it. If anything I’m thankful for all the opportunities I had. Nobody has to thank me.

  53. grumpy realist says:

    Don’t forget the culture of scientists and engineers. A lot of us were born to families who were already scientists or engineers. I grew up in a culture which I would call “European refugee”. A lot of us are dubious about cries of “patriotism” because we have been told all these family stories about what happens when it goes awry. Don’t forget the ideal of a “commonality of scientists.” We travel to different countries for conferences, work with people from different countries, spend sabbaticals abroad–and look down with disdain on people who use tub-thumping calls of “patriotism” in order to cover their own inadequacies.

  54. steve says:

    ” particularly in ways that contribute directly to killing on the battlefield.”

    I am not sure why patriotism necessarily involves killing people. For example I think you can make the case that the people who protested the Iraq War, and remember that many of those people suffered for taking such a stance, were more patriotic than those who supported the war. We have had tons of killing since 9/11, and a lot of deaths on our part. How many of those were truly merited and made us a better, safer, stronger country? Maybe a real patriot thinks that we no longer know when we should and should not kill.

    That said, I think you need to know computer people. They are a different breed. They mostly seem to care about their tech. Everything else, God, country, whatever, comes in way behind.

    Steve

  55. bookdragon says:

    I’m kind of curious whether the objection is to providing tech to the military or to the govt in general.

    With tech that can be used for surveillance, I would think it would be govt in general, or perhaps military and intel agencies. With drone technology, which was the occasion for the last article about protests that I saw, there were concerns about use that anyone with a bit more background would know had less to do with the military than the CIA. (Though at least one person – and unfortunately I can’t find the article now – did express concern that the same tech would wind up in the hands of increasingly militarized ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ police forces here).

  56. mattbernius says:

    @Jay L Gischer:
    Thanks for sharing about danzanryu jujitsu. It’s a system that I’ve heard of in the past, but being an East Coaster, have never had the chance to see live and in person.

  57. Michael Reynolds says:

    @EddieInCA:
    OT from another thread, but yeah, I’m in LA all this week. Fancy a drink?

  58. Tyrell says:

    I am thinking of another grouping: Traditionalist. This group would have a broad range of political views. These are people who look on politics as honorable; a service to the country, not some sort of end around to get power, money, and influence. The traditionalist believes in civil debate, encourages differing views, resists labels, and combines sensible patriotism, pragmatism, and values. You are apt to find traditionalists in fields from banking to car repair, professional and blue collar. They listen more than talk. I would say that they are broad in number. They feel ignored by the current political system.

  59. DrDaveT says:

    @steve: F

    or example I think you can make the case that the people who protested the Iraq War, and remember that many of those people suffered for taking such a stance, were more patriotic than those who supported the war.

    This is the crux. Most people who use the word ‘patriotism’ and care about the concept would disagree violently with this view. For them, patriotism (usually capitalized) is what we used to call jingoism, and they’re for it.

    I grew up in the “America: love it or leave it” years, with the unstated rider that this meant “love it as is”. The countervailing view, “America: if you love it then try to fix it”, was seen as anti-American, anti-patriotic, socialist, communist, radical, hippie, etc. There was nothing to fix! Oppression of women and minorities was natural law, not injustice. Wealth inequity was the result of a Darwinian meritocracy, and thus both good for America and fair, as well! Whatever wars we were fighting were in defense of Freedom, so if you’re opposed to the war you must be opposed to Freedom, or worse!

    That’s what ‘Patriotism’ means to several recent generations, James — the term was co-opted long ago. Would you self-identify with that version of ‘patriot’? I’m not exaggerating here.

    Recent events have not helped. I grew up being told that America was a nation that would not fight unless someone attacked us or our allies first, would never use torture, would never hold prisoners indefinitely without trial, valued separation of Church and State, protected its political processes from being up for sale to the highest bidder, etc. A nation that valued education, and equality of opportunity. A ‘Camelot’ promoting “might for right”. That’s what America stood for.

    But all of that turned out not to be true, and the people who wish it were true and want to work to make it true are considered unAmerican and unpatriotic and beneath contempt by those who consider themselves patriots and Real Americans.

    11
  60. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    Recent events have not helped. I grew up being told that America was a nation that would not fight unless someone attacked us or our allies first, would never use torture, would never hold prisoners indefinitely without trial, valued separation of Church and State, protected its political processes from being up for sale to the highest bidder, etc. A nation that valued education, and equality of opportunity. A ‘Camelot’ promoting “might for right”. That’s what America stood for.

    But all of that turned out not to be true, and the people who wish it were true and want to work to make it true are considered unAmerican and unpatriotic and beneath contempt by those who consider themselves patriots and Real Americans.

    THIS! I wish I had more than one upvote to give.

  61. Jay L Gischer says:

    @mattbernius:

    Thanks for sharing about danzanryu jujitsu. It’s a system that I’ve heard of in the past, but being an East Coaster, have never had the chance to see live and in person.

    You are very welcome. I’m always eager to represent for Okazaki and his, ahem, patriotism. I consider danzanryu an American martial art, with deep Japanese roots, to be sure, but American all the same.

    He thought women had the right to defend themselves, and put that into action. His daughter was active up until the point her health and age did not permit it.

    When we defend a punch in kata, we defend a punch from Euro-style boxing, not a karate punch. This is him adopting what he learned to the place he lived.

    There are colorful stories about people coming from Japan to try and stop him from teaching things to white people and how he sent them packing. I think it’s mythology, but just the same, he quite clearly taught what he knew to anyone who walked in the door.

    He understood what he was doing in terms of a Buddhist do or path to self-improvement. The goal was good health and good attitude, not trashing bozos. Something I wholeheartedly endorse. Is that globalist of me? Or does the fact that the place I’m doing this actually in the USA (like him!), and trying to make America greater by making some of its people greater count for something?

  62. Jim Brown 32 says:

    The irony of this thread is that the Silicon Valley commenters who protest the lens their industry is viewed with by people who have little experience with Big Tech…. also seem to have done the exact same thing with their judgement of the Military.

    It just goes to show the power of the media to shape peoples minds–which isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing. However, i’d expect intelligent people to take anything they read or watch about a part of society they have little or no experience with (which for the military is 98% of americans) to take the world view being served up to them with a grain of salt.

    At the end of the day–world politics is all about collaboration, competition, and conflict. Competitive advantage allows a Country to influence the terms in which they relate to other countries in each of these three arenas. Ordinary citizens, to include Silicon Valley, have no idea how the game is played even though they enjoy the benefits of the US having Global Hegemony. Its the reason smart people here aren’t uprooting their families in the hope of having a better life somewhere else.

    Unfortunately, generational amnesia is undermining what used to be a common US value of being the guarantor of global markets. Yes, the US exploited this role for selfish gain at times. However, Americans will experience a different quality of life in a global economy that is Balkanized by 3-4 world superpowers each with a cut of regional action. Whatever technology our Gov’t doesnt get access too…the Chinese and Russians will have. Its that simple.

  63. Gustopher says:

    @Mikey:

    Nobody has to thank me.

    Thank you anyway.

    I’m glad it turned out well for you, and that you have no regrets, and that you think you got more out of it than you put in. But I still want to thank you.

    Devoting a significant chunk of your life to something that helps others (our country’s defense, childhood poverty, whatever) deserves thanks, even if you got more than you gave. You make the world a better place.

    (I also thank police, firemen, nurses and waitresses — yeah, they’re all jobs, but they’re really hard jobs, and they are the lubricant that makes society run)

  64. Mister Bluster says:

    and waitresses…
    Pretty much every gal I ever spent any quality time with was a waitress at one time or another.
    And the answer to this question was always yes.

  65. Slugger says:

    I have trouble with abstract thought. How about concrete examples:
    It is March 1964, protesters are on one side of the Edmunds Pettus bridge, and a police force confronts them. Which side are the patriots on?
    You are a US Senator in August 1965, you are voting on a resolution regarding an incident in the Gulf of Tonkin. How does a patriot vote?

  66. Rick Zhang says:

    Hopefully I can contribute to this discussion. I grew up in part in the Bay Area with parents who worked in the tech industry. I obtained a degree in CS and worked at Microsoft briefly before leaving the industry. Thus, I am uniquely positioned to comment on both the bubble/tunnel mentality in the Bay while being aware of the world outside of it.

    I agree with you that techies in the Bay, more so than techies elsewhere in the country, are less nationalist and patriotic in the traditional sense. In discussing this I would like to split the generic group of “techies” into two broad camps:

    1. White [male] progressive. Sometimes characterized as “Bernie bros”. Intersects somewhat with the hipster. Liable to join antifa and protest if he weren’t too busy with work. Usually a product of elite colleges raised with a suspicion of authority, especially state power. Tends to be politically naive and gravitates to hip feel good causes especially regarding social justice, climate change, and pacifism/world peace. Has a negative view of rah rah flag waving nationalism. This is the type that I feel will push back strongly against doing “unethical” things such as building weapons. However, his viewpoint is skewed by bubble mentality and groupthink (Tyler Cowen would call this mood affiliation). There is a bit of cognitive dissonance as well. He will eagerly build more sinister and indirectly subversive propaganda tools such as Facebook without much complaint until/unless the public outrage shifts the dynamic such that it’s “cool” to hate on Facebook.

    2. Minority (usually East/South Asian). I fall into this category, obviously. We immigrated to the US as economic migrants. Our number one goal is to study hard, make money, and be successful. Due to growing up in more authoritarian countries, we tend to have a jaded opinion of politics and international relations. The best way I can describe it is to keep your head down, make money, and avoid attracting too much attention from those in power. This group has fewer qualms about building WMDs and AI guidance for missiles because 1. it’s lucrative, 2. our jobs/visas depend on it, and 3. if we don’t do it someone else will. We tend to be socially moderate and fiscally conservative but repelled by the flag waving rah rah nationalism currently in vogue on the right because it’s done under the umbrella of ethnic nationalism. We know that White American ethnic nationalists will co-opt and use us but never fully accept us. Also, the dirty secret is that we’re not as vested in the American project precisely because of the swing to ethnic (White) nationalism. As a result, there’s less of the tug of heartstring loyalty/belonging. Some of us are mercenary. If you pay us enough, we’ll build anything for anyone. Within reason of course, as becoming a rogue operative and hacking for Russia will probably land us in jail, so that’s out. Life is good in the US right now because of high pay and a good quality of life. However, if the country goes downhill or if things don’t work out, we’ll readily emigrate again to somewhere else that will take our skills and treat us right.

    So in other words, #1 has a moral groupthink mood affiliation based objection to war and directly contributing to conflict in general, but there’s some leeway for denial for indirectly contributing to things to ease the cognitive dissonance. #2 is mercenary, footloose, globalist, has fewer qualms about contributing to conflict, but is less patriotic due to the rise of ethnic nationalism.

    Both #1 and #2 are financially well off. Well-off and successful people travel abroad, vacation abroad, own properties abroad, speak multiple languages, and go to elite schools (often abroad) where they mingle with other international kids. We feel like and call ourselves world citizens. One phrase I common see used is “I have more in common with someone educated and successful from France/Germany/Nigeria/Korea/Pakistan than I do with a country bumpkin from rural America”. See: journalists who have coined the distinction between Somewheres and Anywheres, which is all the rage in FP academic circles.

    Finally, the conservative nationalist heartland voters have always liked to wrap themselves in the flag by staking out the most zero sum nationalist position on issues like trade and conflict. This has been made worse with Trump in that they claim to be the only true Americans. By default, since they are different from us and are on the other side of the political spectrum, it contributes to tribal thinking and being globalist/anti-nationalist by default. It’s similar with religion. “Conservatives” like to trumpet their moral superiority and churchgoing status. Those who don’t are pushed to the opposite camp where they create and enforce tribal loyalty to an anti-clerical mode of thinking. Even if I’m normally neutral on religious issues, I’m compelled to demonstrate my loyalty to my tribe (again, mood affiliation) by being mildly anti-clerical.

    Sorry for the stream of consciousness mode of writing. It’s a bit late…

  67. Rick Zhang says:

    Oh, another bit about supporting the troops. We don’t feel that kind of intrinsic loyalty for the following reasons:

    1. They are overwhelmingly conservative in their voting habits. In fact, we feel they dislike and disrespect us. By criticizing liberals and minorities, they directly attack us. Tribal thinking again dominates.
    2. Geographically they come from the South and Midwest. Again, tribal thinking.
    3. Growing up the few kids in my high school who wanted to join the military were the loser/dropout/musclehead types that sometimes bullied us for being nerdy/studious. My wife who is from rural Utah had a completely different experience where they had to sing the pledge of allegiance and many of her classmates aspired to the military as the #1 path towards economic mobility. However, compared to a tech job, the military pay is not that great.
    4. The civilian government leadership has committed all sorts of crimes against humanity and atrocities but is able to suppress dissent due to its arsenal and strongarming of allies.
    5. We disagree with recent military policy and foreign adventures, such as being too proactive in Libya, Syria, Iraq and causing more trouble than is needed.
    6. An overwhelming sense that the military industrial complex is corrupt. See Blackwater, no bid contracts, conservative efforts to boost military spending while cutting domestic discretionary non-military spending (guns over butter). My wife had military classmates in grad school who shared horror stories about splurging tons of tax money on pools and other luxury amenities on military bases.

  68. Mikey says:

    @Rick Zhang:

    My wife had military classmates in grad school who shared horror stories about splurging tons of tax money on pools and other luxury amenities on military bases.

    Things must have changed since I was in.

  69. Eric Florack says:

    @Kathy: absolutely correct. And it strikes me that this trend to get amplified by our lack of willingness to assimilate