The New York Times published its long-awaited article about the Rationalist movement, about Silicon Valley's neo-reactionary tendencies, and about Slate Star Codex, the blog where it supposedly all came together. The item is a mess, relying on implication and inside baseball. Its overall thesis—that tech titans are in with the far right—is serious. But it advances it with a wild and tenuous frame story setting Slate Star Codex at the heart of that culture.
There's an important story to be told about far-right techbros lurking in the libertarian herd of independent minds. There's also an interesting story to be told about Scott Siskind, whose Rationalist ramblings attracted both groups and others to Slate Star Codex. But in trying to combine these stories, the Times lost sight of both.
Which is a shame because it includes an incredible buried lede that stares right at the bigger picture: in 2013, the prominent Silicon Valley venture capitalist Balaji Srinivasan privately proposed marshaling the "Dark Enlightenment" to harass "vulnerable" journalists.
Here's the passage in question:
That year, when the tech news site TechCrunch published an article exploring the links between the neoreactionaries, the Rationalists and Silicon Valley, Mr. [Curtis] Yarvin and Mr. Srinivasan traded emails. Mr. Srinivasan said they could not let that kind of story gain traction. …
"If things get hot, it may be interesting to sic the Dark Enlightenment audience on a single vulnerable hostile reporter to dox them and turn them inside out with hostile reporting sent to their advertisers/friends/contacts," Mr. Srinivasan said in an email viewed by The New York Times, using a term, "Dark Enlightenment," that was synonymous with the neoreactionary movement.
It is, to put it mildly, significant that a then-General Partner at Andreessen Horowitz, whose vast array of investments include Substack, Medium and Reddit, was proposing to far-right racists in 2013 that they dox and harass individual journalists. (Srinivasan is no longer at Andreessen Horowitz)
According to the Times, Srinivasan's suggestion was in response to an early expose of Silicon Valley's neoreactionary fringe that had angered the clubhouse. Unfortunately, the Times is vague on the specific context and details of the leaked email, perhaps to protect its sources. It implies Peter Thiel, another powerful Silicon Valley investor, was a participant in the discussion and did not agree with Srinivasan's idea.
The Times also dates the email to 2013, shortly before GamerGate, a harassment campaign that saw the suggested methods put to use in spectacular fashion. GamerGate steered a large audience of low-information consumers into supporting what was otherwise recognized as a reactionary farce from the outset:
This isn't to suggest Srinivasan was involved in GamerGate. It's to point out that the online harassment campaigns of the 2010s were not the ex nihilo trial runs for Trump they are often now portrayed as. They were buds on the branches of a tree already fast-growing in tech.
"Some people lead by loyalty and inspiration," said Nathalie McGrath, a Coinbase executive after Srinivasan's brief stint as CTO there. "Balaji leads by fear and by money."
Instead of bothering bloggers like Scott Siskind, it's time to recognize that the fear and the money are where it's at.
UPDATE: A reader pointed out that Siskind himself reported receiving a disturbing message of "support" from Srinivasan regarding the Times' story before it was published.
I got an email from Balaji Srinivasan, a man whose anti-corporate-media crusade straddles a previously unrecognized border between endearing and terrifying. He had some very creative suggestions for how to deal with journalists. I'm not sure any of them were especially actionable, at least not while the Geneva Convention remains in effect. But it was still a good learning experience. In particular, I learned never to make an enemy of Balaji Srinivasan. I am humbled by his support.
This strongly implies Srinivasan has worse on his mind than mere doxxing and harassment. The remark about the Geneva Convention implies violence and if it's a joke, it isn't funny.