Ellen Pao Can’t “Include” Peter Thiel’s Free Speech

The message sent by Silicon Valley, an area with a culture resembling something from George Orwell’s nightmares, is clearer than ever today. You are not allowed to have the “wrong” opinion in politics. You may not donate to the campaign of your choosing. If you step out of line, you will be punished. Just ask Ellen Pao, the head of Project Include, who announced yesterday her organization’s decision to cut ties with Y Combinator after Peter Thiel, a part time investor, donated $1.25 million to the Trump campaign.

Pao, a serial litigant in the court of feelings, starts off slow in announcing her tantrum over Thiel’s donation.

Diversity and inclusion are hard, especially in tech. Doing them right means agreeing on values, setting standards, calling out bad behavior, and sometimes firing people. (emphasis added)

That bolded statement refers to Y Combinator’s decision to not cut ties with Thiel after news broke of his donation to the Trump campaign. Sam Altman, the organization’s president, defended their decision to maintain relations with Thiel in a series of tweets Sunday night. Two notable ones are below.

5) Cutting off opposing viewpoints leads to extremism and will not get us the country we want.

6) Diversity of opinion is painful but critical to the health of a democratic society. We can’t start purging people for political support.

These are principled statements from someone in an industry where people lose jobs over a single offensive tweet. Altman is correct in his assertions that we must hear all sides, no matter how uncomfortable they make us feel. Furthermore, cutting ties with someone over political issues isn’t just asinine, it’s completely un-American. Despite this, Pao sees Peter Thiel’s continued presence at Y Combinator as outrageous.

 [We] are completely outraged to read about Thiel donating $1.25 million to Trump, “apparently unfazed by the storm around the candidate in the last week following the broadcasting of lewd conversations.”

Outrage is a strong motivator for irrational decisions. If not checked appropriately, it can cause people to commit stupid actions and justify them under preposterous grounds. Here, Pao sees Thiel’s campaign donation as one form of speech that is completely unacceptable from someone who holds a different political view. This is “hate speech,” and while United States courts have yet to define “hate speech,” Ellen Pao is like Justice Potter Stewart defining hard-core pornography. She “knows it when she sees it.”

While all of us believe in the ideas of free speech and open platforms, we draw a line here. We agree that people shouldn’t be fired for their political views, but

this isn’t a disagreement on tax policy, this is advocating hatred and violence. (emphasis added) 

Ellen Pao’s attempt at virtue signaling to those who believe in free speech and an open exchange of ideas ends at the bolded word in that quote. Usually, when you see someone say “I believe in free speech, but” it means they really don’t believe in free speech. They only believe in that speech with which they agree. And her assertion a campaign donation is “advocating hatred and violence” is completely void of logic or reason.

Thiel donated money to Donald Trump’s campaign. He spoke on behalf of Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention. It’s not as if he firebombed a campaign office and spray painted a message for Democrats to leave town on the side of the building. Yet this donation is enough to make Ellen Pao, self appointed spokesperson for marginalized and oppressed groups everywhere feel “unsafe.”

Giving more power to someone whose ascension and behavior strike fear into so many people is unacceptable. His attacks [on minorities] are more than just political speech; fueled by hate and encouraging violence, they make each of us feel unsafe…[Project Include’s] mission is to give everyone a fair chance to succeed in the workplace. “Everyone” means all groups to us, but we draw a line at individuals who fund violence and hate.

So an openly gay Republican who donates to the candidate of his choice is where Ellen draws the line. That’s cool; it’s not as if the guy who founded PayPal needs Project Include or Ellen Pao’s help in the workplace. Peter Thiel doesn’t need a “fair chance” to succeed. He’s already there. What Ellen Pao is saying without explicitly saying it is Project Include doesn’t want gay conservatives who back Donald Trump involved in their mission to promote “diversity and inclusion.” Thiel is just an easy target.

While she might consider herself “punching up” in her decision to pull Project Include’s support from Y Combinator, Ellen Pao is also sending a message to every member of the LGBTQ community who holds conservative views or supports Donald Trump. We don’t like you, we don’t want you, and if we find out you’re not saying and doing the right things to support our personal mission of “diversity and inclusion” we will withhold our support from your project.

We have hope for YC…We saw an opportunity to work with YC companies interested in building vibrant and diverse organizations, and we actively invited YC as a contributor to our VC Include program…But Thiel’s actions are in direct conflict with our values at Project Include. Because of his continued connection to YC, we are compelled to break off our relationship with YC. We hope this situation changes, and that we are both willing to move forward together in the future. Today it is clear to us that our values are not aligned.

Yes, Ellen, it’s clear your values aren’t aligned with the higher ups at Y Combinator. Project Include doesn’t support free speech, especially when it comes from a conservative speaker. Project Include only wants to hear from people who make them feel “safe.” And Project Include doesn’t give a damn about LGBTQ conservatives who back the Republican candidate, no matter how much they might say otherwise.

Maybe Project Include isn’t as committed to “diversity and inclusion” as they would like to think. Maybe it’s time for them to admit that. Then, and only then, will Ellen Pao and her organization exhibit any intellectual honesty after such a farcical move.