Remember when Paul Graham was right?

Paul Graham, one of the most respected voices in Silicon Valley, both from the business and technology side, recently wrote:

His replies soon became a chorus of people (very reasonably, for Twitter!) pleading with him to reconsider his opinion on whether the founders of Airbnb were poor, and what kinds of difficulties founders who haven’t gone to top schools might encounter while working on startups.

He refused to acknowledge this was an issue, even going so far as to insult people, and as is his usual M.O., start blocking them. This was extremely disappointing to see.

Everyone in tech who has been online for a while has their own pg origin story. I first stumbled upon his essays probably sometime around 2012, when I was just getting into the industry. Everything he wrote seemed so smart! How did he do it? My favorite pieces of his are probably Submarine and Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule, which I’ve sent to countless people by now.

He had a fantastic way for elucidating the common realities we’re dealing with in tech and turning them from a frustrating jumble of noise into clear, elegant writing that describes exactly what people are dealing with. “I know what it’s like,” his earlier posts, which were kind of like reading letters from an older, smarter brother.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when the tide turned, but it’s very much tied up in his success at YCombinator. In 2009, the company moved from the East Coast to the West Coast. In 2011, Yuri Milner, a Russian-Israeli investor with investments in the top internet-based companies of the past fifteen years, got involved. Sometime between then and 2014, when Sam Altman (who once tried to change US politics with a dashboard), stepped in, Paul Graham no longer was writing from outside the establishment. He was no longer a startup cofounder, writing Arc, waxing eloquently on Lisp.

Paul Graham was now the reason everyone wanted to be in Silicon Valley, and as such, he stopped getting contradictory advice, and started becoming complacent, to the point where he now refuses to see anyone else’s opinion or experience.

That’s very sad.

In one of his own essays, he writes,

When experts are wrong, it's often because they're experts on an earlier version of the world.

He’s also written, recently,

When I ask myself what I've found life is too short for, the word that pops into my head is "bullshit." I realize that answer is somewhat tautological. It's almost the definition of bullshit that it's the stuff that life is too short for. And yet bullshit does have a distinctive character. There's something fake about it. It's the junk food of experience.

It seems that he now believes something very dangerous: not only is he still an expert on the current version of the world, but that what other people are saying is bullshit.

Links:

  1. Who comes up with brand names?

  2. Replacing Google Analytics with simple logs

  3. The Dollar Store backlash


About the Author

I’m a data scientist in Philadelphia. Most of my free time is spent kid-wrangling, reading, and watching foreign soaps. Find out more here or follow me on Twitter. Please send me any feedback (suggestions for links, thoughts, etc.) at vickiboykis+normcore@gmail.com.