Strange Loop, an annual tech and innovation conference in St. Louis, Missouri, is facing allegations of political intolerance after disinviting a software engineer and influential political theorist from its 2015 lineup.
Software engineer Curtis Yarvin was scheduled to give a talk on a new system software stack at Strangeloop — but his talk has now been cancelled after the conference received complaints on social media by critics of his political views. These complaints occured despite the fact that Yarvin’s talk, the abstract of which is copied below, concerned a purely technical topic.
urbit is a new execution stack designed from scratch. The VM is a combinator automaton, nock, defined in 200 words. A strict, typed functional language, hoon, compiles itself to nock. arvo is an event-sourced OS in hoon, designed as a personal cloud server. While urbit still scales poorly, it’s stable enough to host a distributed chat network and serve React apps. The whole system is about 25,000 lines of code, all MIT licensed and patent-free.
Since none of urbit’s layers fits well in any system-software family tree, its key disadvantage is that you need to learn to program again. It’s also pretty slow, though we think we know how to make it fast. In exchange you get: a logical computer whose entire lifecycle is deterministic; a single-level store (“NoDB”) where every packet is a transaction; an authenticated, encrypted network with a global immutable namespace; typed functional programming without category theory; typed, exactly-once network messages; and lots of other cool stuff that anyone sensible these days would put in a system software stack if she got the chance to design one.
In an email to Yarvin, Strange Loop creator Alex Miller said that while he did not normally seek to “audit” the political opinions of attendees, Yarvin’s theories risked “overshadowing” the conference. Responding to a request for comment, Miller said he is trying to create a conference “where the focus is on technology and the topic being prestented”.
Unfortunately for Miller, his decision has only fueled the controversy. The number of people criticising his decision on social media, including the well-known blogger ClarkHat and the libertarian writer Andrea Castillo, now seems to outnumber those who initially complained about Yarvin.
In addition to being a software engineer, Yarvin also writes political theory, under the pen name “Mencius Moldbug”. His critiques of liberal democracy and enlightenment values have attracted vociferous criticism across the internet — but also praise for their intellectual nuance and contribution to political discourse. Sam Bowman, Deputy Director of the ASI think tank in London has even suggested that Yarvin may be the “greatest living political thinker”.
In academia, critiques of liberal democracy are not uncommon. Communitarians and ethical relativists have been offering philosophical critiques of liberal universalism for some time. Critiques of democratic theory have also made a comeback in political philosophy recently, in the form of Jason Brennan and David Estlund’s considerations of “epistocracy”, or expert rule. And Yarvin’s idea of a “patchwork” of independent city-states was also anticipated by the libertarian philosopher Robert Nozick, who envisaged a similar system in Anarchy, State and Utopia (1976). Yarvin himself might be surprised at how uncontroversial his theories would be in the academy.
Controversy is always magnified on social media, of course. But surely the hosts of a tech conference would know that?
Follow Allum Bokhari @LibertarianBlue on Twitter.