LambdaConf, an annual gathering of programmers in Boulder, Colorado, has faced calls from social justice warriors to cancel a talk by Curtis Yarvin, the developer of the Urbit programming environment, due to his political views.
Yarvin, who wrote a series of political essays in the late 2000s under the pen-name “Mencius Moldbug” is credited as one of the pioneers of modern “Neoreactionary” thinking. His more controversial positions included detailed critiques of democracy, egalitarianism, and liberalism.
Anticipating the controversy, LambdaConf’s organisers made a pre-emptive decision that they would support Yarvin’s continued presence at the conference, on the grounds that they could not start deciding who attends a programming conference on the basis of their political views.
Some attendees are amoral atheists, some are devoutly religious; some are communists and others are staunch Democrats or Republicans.
In fact, all the above are represented in this year’s lineup of speakers. I don’t want to overemphasize this, but even in our group of speakers, we have views that are diametrically opposed to one another, and which can make people feel very uncomfortable.
If we can treat each other well, if we can behave as respectful professionals despite the many ways in which our belief systems clash with each other, then I believe there is hope.
Following a feedback process from members of the programming community, LambdaConf went a step further, launching a new policy that prohibits the ban of speakers based solely on their political views. It’s a stark contrast to Strange Loop, another programming conference, which caved to SJW pressure and banned Yarvin last year.
LambdaConf has, predictably, faced a backlash over their decision to defend political diversity. One attendee, who describes Yarvin’s political writing as “hateful,” is reconsidering attending the conference. Jon Sterling, program chair of PrlConf, accused Yarvin of being an “outspoken advocate for slavery” and publicly announced he would no longer attend LambdaConf. His announcement was signed with a five-pointed red star.
In a Medium post, Yarvin rejected these accusations. “I am not an “outspoken advocate for slavery,” a racist, a sexist or a fascist. (On 4chan I’m sometimes known as “Moldberg,” and depicted with a photoshopped Jew-nose.) I am also not plotting any sort of world domination.” He added that he was there to talk about Urbit, his programming environment, not his political beliefs.
Computer scientist Meredith L. Patterson, a veteran of gatherings like LambdaConf, said Urbit was an important tool that deserved to be discussed. “Urbit’s one of the few designs I’ve seen that addresses data validation at all layers of the stack. Heartbleed, the Android Master Key vulnerability, and Shellshock were all data validation bugs.”
“The industry’s picking these off one at a time, and we need to be killing entire bug classes. Full recognition before processing is the way to do that for data validation.”
Not all observers agree that Yarvin’s political beliefs deserve suppression either. Even those who disagree with Yarvin acknowledge his influence on political discourse. Sam Bowman, a British economist and Executive Director of the Adam Smith Institute writes “I am not a neoreactionary, but sometimes I think Mencius Moldbug is the greatest living political thinker.”