What Does The Gray Tribe Believe?
New Tech Centrism
House keeping: We just launched a new show today, 1 to 1000 with Jack Altman interviewing CEOs/COOs of scaling companies, including Eric Glyman of Ramp, Claire Hughes Johnson of Stripe, and many others. Check it out!
Last week we chatted with Balaji for 7 hours about the need for a “gray tribe” in contrast to the red and blue tribes. In this piece I’ll take a stab at some gray tribe positions as well as some context on why there’s a gray tribe in the first place.
We previously talked previously about the techlash — how the left loved tech and then turned on tech. This has left techies politically homeless for some time.
Techies feel they can’t be leftists, because the most extreme leftists are attacking them and destroying their companies from the inside out.
Techies can’t be rightists either because they’re neither working class nor socially conservative.
Techies can’t be libertarians because libertarians always lose. Not enough people actually want free markets. Reasonable people often ask: "Why can't we have a free market system with a safety net? Classically conservative economics and classically liberal social policies?" Because people don’t want that. Per Bryan Caplan: "The median American is moderate national socialist — statist to the core on both economic and social policy. The defining quality of libertarians is that they’re not republicans. So when a contentious issue arises, their “not Republican” instincts take over. If we’re going to have libertarianism, it’d be nice to get some liberty out of it. But when it mattered, even libertarians were all in on COVID mandates.
Techies can’t be effective altruists because EA is Silicon Valley progressivism at the end of the day. Their biggest donors are the biggest donors to the DNC.
It’s been hard to establish what tech’s new political position should be.
It can't just be anti-woke, it has to be FOR something.
It can't just be libertarianism, there's no constituency for that.
It can't just be a new version of Reagan Republicanism, that's old and stale.
It can't be the center-left, they've already lost.
It can't be Catholicism, too niche and weird in modern times.
It can't be neoreactionaryism, nobody wants that except for a few political nerds.
It can’t be transhumanism, nobody wants that except Balaji’s fan base.
(1) Sounds anti-progress and therefore anti-tech.
(2) Attached to old losing issues like gay marriage and abortion that nobody in tech wants to revisit.
‘Conservative’ has deeply negative brand value. It's what old people who opposed abortion and gay marriage called themselves. It also has no vision beyond being against the left. As Brian Caplan says “the left hates markets, the right hates the left.”
Indeed, elite tech non-leftists want nothing to do with MAGA/Trump. Peter Thiel and Blake Masters and JD Vance are exceptions that prove the rule. If you force tech people to choose between staying apolitical and joining what’s perceived as a Christianized anti-abortion anti-gay-marriage movement, they'll just stay apolitical.
Up until 2015, a tech mogul could simultaneously be a ruthless business person, a Democrat in good standing, and a morally pure and beloved figure for philanthropy, with support from every institution and authority figure who mattered. That ended nearly overnight, with turns among the regulators, employees, and HR departments as part of that.
So now you have three choices: You can go left and try to stand up to people who hate you. Or you can go to the right and lose because no one wants to be associated with the right (even Garry Tan who is advocating for what seems like right-ist policies on housing, homelessness, crime, etc, swears he’s a leftist). Or you can reach for what seems to be the only alternative, this new form of centrism:
The new tech centrist wants to be non-left, but they don’t want the MAGA affiliation either. They are former leftists who are going relatively right-wards, but don't think of themselves as “right-wing” as they differ on key issues like abortion, gay marriage, and immigration. They’re also not working class.
Of course, centrism is often a losing strategy. It’s a way to seem reasonable, but you can’t build a constituency on that, since it can’t stand up to extremes on both sides. Balaji’s idea of “The Gray Tribe” seems to get at some of the benefits of centrism, while also not being as squishy. The Gray Tribe is a “big tent” for a lot of camps (i.e. people interested in Bitcoin, Ethereum, e/acc, EA even, libertarianism, American dynamism), without being alienating to any individual group the way those groups often are. Gray Tribe acknowledges a class consciousness around centrists in a way that has been hard for centrists to build, which is why you’ve never seen a centrism pride parade.
The opinions/reactions of a Gray Tribe the past few years may have been something like this:
The left has gone way too far left
What’s happening in schools on these issues is messed up
OMG crime WTF
COVID policies WTF
Mostly Peaceful WTF
Tech activists have gone insane WTF
The right is bananas on abortion
The right is bananas on Trump / election denial
Jan 6 WTF
The positions the Gray Tribe/new tech centrists want to have are something like:
* There are elites — there are some people who are just smarter and more competent and more capable than others
* It's OK to be an elite
* It's OK to want to be an elite
* It's OK to want your children to be an elite
* Crime is bad and criminals should be locked up
* We aren't actually racist
* We aren't actually sexist
* We shouldn't be forced to hire people who aren't qualified
* Capitalism is good actually
* Tech is good actually
* And in fact, tech may be the only thing that is actually good, the only area in which actual progress is being made anywhere in our society
* Enemies of tech are bad
* Some taxes are OK, but the government is dysfunctional and we shouldn't keep feeding it more money without fixing the underlying issues first
* Schools should teach math and not indoctrinate kids
* We have the solution to climate change and it's nuclear, if we're ever allowed to build it
* The government bails out other industries but not us, and should stop it
* We need politics out of our companies
* Elon should be a national hero
* Let’s not rewind progress on abortion or gay marriage
* Sure, get the border under control, but let’s not be anti-immigration
This is just a start. What would you add? More on on this in future posts.