A heresy in Silicon Valley

“Our leadership believes that working with the Chinese communist party is inconsistent with our culture and mission.”

Quick. Without searching online, what US tech company recently made that statement? Which same company stated the following about democracy, technology, and the state?

“The engineering elite of Silicon Valley may know more than most about building software. But they do not know more about how society should be organized or what justice requires….

“The world’s largest consumer internet companies have never had greater access to the most intimate aspects of our lives. And the advance of their technologies has outpaced the development of the forms of political control that are capable of governing their use…

“The corporate form itself — that is, the privilege to engage in private enterprise — is a product of the state and would not exist without it.
The ability of our most vital institutions to protect and provide for the public requires the right technology…

“And we believe that as a result, over the long term, the strength and survival of democratic forms of government do as well…

“We generally do not enter into business with customers or governments whose positions or actions we consider inconsistent with our mission to support Western liberal democracy and its strategic allies.”

Whatever company said this would obviously understand the bigger picture of technological competition with in the 21st Century. It would presumably also understand the primacy of the nation-state for the survival of democracy.

Answer: these are all statements taken from Palantir’s S-1 manifesto. Palantir, the supposedly “secret”, supposedly “dystopian, cyberpunk” (?) data mining company. The company was co-founded by early Facebook backer and supporter of Donald Trump, Peter Thiel and Alex Karp.

Perhaps reflecting its culture war with Silicon Valley, the company relocated to Denver. “Our company was founded in Silicon Valley. But we seem to share fewer and fewer of the technology sector’s values and commitments,” the company said in its S-1 SEC registration.

Yet the heresy for the Silicon Valley ideology is clear.

Do Palantir’s much larger Silicon Valley peers see the world this way?

Mostly not, I’d say. And many are hesitant to say so, reluctant to come out too far in favor of the Western state.

But not everything is clear for Palantir.

A fleeting mention of the “systemic failures of government institutions to provide for the public” in the S-1 discusses the need for the public and private sectors to transform themselves.

True. Yes. But this isn’t just a question of planning and engineering. It’s also largely a question of the human business of politics. Libertarianism, in this way, has been a singularly destructive force for a vital, relevant, effective government in the US. This can’t be remedied through better data alone.

In any case, Palantir is certainly an outlier in the modes of thinking in American technology companies.

(*Note: Through a family member I own shares of Palantir. )

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