Led by Musk, Silicon Valley inches to the right

Led by Musk, Silicon Valley inches to the right
Led by Musk, Silicon Valley inches to the right

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Since his tumultuous takeover of Twitter, Elon Musk has made an unabashed turn to the right politically, defying the orthodoxy that Silicon Valley is a citadel of well-heeled liberals beholden to Democrats. — Reuters pic

WASHINGTON, March 10 — Since his tumultuous takeover of Twitter, Elon Musk has made an unabashed turn to the right politically, defying the orthodoxy that Silicon Valley is a citadel of well-heeled liberals beholden to Democrats.

Long considered non-identifiable ideologically, Musk’s politics are now hardline right wing as he uses his platform (now called X) to stoke the themes cherished by Fox News, conservative talk radio and far right movements across the West.

In just the latest example, repeating a conspiracy theory of far right chat rooms, Musk last week posted that US President Joe Biden was importing migrants for votes, laying the groundwork for “something far worse than 9/11”.

But beyond the posts, the question on everyone’s mind is whether the world’s second richest person will put his weight, and wealth, behind the bid of former US president Donald to retake the White House.

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The rumour mill went into overdrive when The New York Times reported that the two men met, along with other Republican donors, in Florida last week.

Trump is seriously trailing Biden in raising campaign funds, even if he sailed toward the Republican nomination to be US president, and Musk could single handedly make up the shortfall.

Musk turned to X to insist that “to be super clear, I am not donating money to either candidate for US President.”

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But the funding of US elections is opaque and complicated, and Biden backers worry that Musk could change his mind or fund political committees that themselves finance Trump, or find other ways to help the Republican cause.

‘Techno-optimist’

Musk is not alone: other Silicon Valley mavens are also defending conservative causes, making noise in what electorally remains a liberal stronghold; in 2020, Trump’s vote share in Silicon Valley was less than 25 per cent.

Some tycoons are seeking to build a political movement that, even if not directly supporting Trump, embraces conservative causes, cryptocurrencies, and goes against the California grain.

One of the loudest voices in this shift is Marc Andreessen, the early internet tycoon who founded Netscape and now co-runs Andreessen Horowitz, a venerable venture capital company.

Once a typically left-of-centre tech magnate, who had close ties to former vice president Al Gore, Andreessen now fights vehemently against left-wing priorities, especially so-called “woke” considerations about equality or workplace inclusiveness.

Last year, in a 5,200-word “techno-optimist manifesto”, Andreessen laid out a techno-utopian vision for the future that listed co-opted government, regulation and worries about discrimination or equality as enemies.

Like many of his fellow right-wing investors, Andreessen’s company is heavily invested in cryptocurrencies and last year launched a political war chest to make trouble for lawmakers, Democratic or Republican, who want the nascent industry more heavily controlled.

For tech analyst Carolina Milanesi, the newly emerging outspokenness could be less about aping Musk than worry from an old guard that the status quo is vanishing.

“As people are talking about wokeness, when you’re talking about either diversity, equality and inclusion, or you’re talking about sustainability, all of those things, basically are a threat to the status quo,” she said.

This exasperation with what Musk calls the “woke mind virus” is what drives a hit podcast called “All-In,” where four tech bigwigs, some friends with Musk, opine about the world and the latest tech developments.

The hosts include David Sacks, one of the members of the PayPal mafia, a group of men that includes Musk, who worked at that late 1990s startup and since became the representatives of Silicon Valley’s small but growing right-leaning faction.

Another PayPal veteran is investor Peter Thiel, a German-born arch conservative who associated himself with Trump when he entered the White House.

After the assault of the US Capitol in 2021, Thiel said he would stay out of politics and has since become a sort of philosopher king of Silicon Valley’s right-wing who remains above the fray.

‘Far left’ AI

The power of this new guard is beginning to be felt with the diversity minded tech companies on the back foot over criticisms that San Francisco is ridden with drugs and crime or that generative AI has become too “woke.”

Google CEO Sundar Pichai last month found himself under fire, and his company’s share price bruised, after it emerged that its just launched Gemini AI app had generated images of ethnically diverse World War II Nazi troops and other ahistorical gaffes.

“The people running Google AI are smuggling in their preferences and their biases, and those biases are extremely liberal,” said Sacks in an All-In podcast segment titled “Google’s woke AI disaster.”

In a sign of rising conservative influence, Google’s Pichai called the AI snafu “completely unacceptable” and founder Sergey Brin said “we definitely messed up” in generating such “far left” imagery. — AFP

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