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Monday, January 27, 2014

Tom Perkins: San Francisco Billionaire Likens Tech Backlash to Nazi Persecution of Jews

Posted By on Mon, Jan 27, 2014 at 7:00 AM

Never Forget, they say...
  • Never Forget, they say...

We are living through the Age of Superlatives, in which every last bit of information or object that can be photographed with a pocket-sized computer is summarily assigned the ranking of "best" or "worst" ever.   

We are also living through a tech-fueled ephemeral age, in which the "Best Ever!" or "Worst Ever!" are rapidly entombed beneath a glut of supplemental Best or Worst Evers, with the new smothering the old. Society's collective memory is reduced to an Etch-a-Sketch. 

So, when someone does something really and truly abhorrent, the means to both criticize it and place it within a meaningful context have been compromised. Last week, The Wall Street Journal ran a letter penned by billionaire venture capitalist Tom Perkins in which he connected the dots between the current round of sniping against San Francisco's ascendent tech elite and Kristallnacht -- the state-sponsored 1938 Nazi pogrom that left a minimum of 91 Jews murdered when government-led thugs burned synagogues, ransacked Jewish homes and businesses, and shattered countless windows. 

Kristallnacht was a terrifying display of top-down mayhem masquerading as a spontaneous uprising. And it was just the merest hint of an indescribable nightmare to come. 

Perkins' logic is so poor; his grasp of both San Francisco's present and Germany's past is so lacking; and his attempt to liken the two is so myopic, insulting and overbearing -- that this really could be the Worst Letter Ever. 

Perkins' three-paragraph manifesto has set the Internet a-twitter -- itself a symptom of the ephemeral age. Alarmingly well-educated and successful tech barons write alarmingly stupid and unfeeling things on the Internet, begetting an industry whose entire raison d'être is to produce smart reactions to these stupid ramblings.  

Rinse and repeat. Another oligarch or tech hanger-on will surely write or tweet something naive or brainless, and the Internet is poised to react. It's a process, a certainty, a business model. 

Perhaps you could call it The Banality of Idiocy. 

The critiques of Perkins' tortured Nazi comparisons  -- which he saw fit to double down on and reiterate in a letter to Bloomberg -- could fill volumes. Let's not do that. 

Constructing a point-by-point takedown of such a spectacularly ludicrous and mindless contention is a waste of everyone's time. Rather, let's simply point out one of Perkins' more egregious fallacies (apart from the entire notion of evoking the Third Reich in response to San Franciscans bemoaning  tech buses and his ex-wife Danielle Steel's topiary). 

It's the aforementioned matter of persecution -- specifically state-orchestrated persecution.

Here in San Francisco, a handful of lefty bus blockades resulted in highly compensated tech workers being forced to toil a few extra hours via the Wi-Fi in their private shuttles instead of within their Silicon Valley compounds. This accelerated a city program to smoothly integrate the ubiquitous corporate coaches into San Francisco's transportation infrastructure, wholly ignoring their years of cavalierly squatting in municipal bus stops. Bus-deploying companies will be charged a piddling $1 per stop to fund the program; there are no retroactive penalties and no punitive measures. 

So, it's not exactly a government-led pogrom. 

Here's your state-run pogrom: On Sept. 9 and 10, 1938, rioters throughout Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia were specifically instructed by government authorities to limit their murder and destruction to Jews, avoiding foreigners and gentiles. Fire brigades impotently allowed at least 267 synagogues to burn to the ground, ordered to intervene only if flames spread to neighboring, non-Jewish-owned structures.  

If you require a full measure of just how complicit the government was in the riots Perkins evoked and feels are looming in San Francisco's future, consider this: In the wake of murder and looting and destruction, the Nazis and Germany's insurance companies hatched a plot to keep the nation's ruined Jewry from recouping any losses while actually allowing the government to profit from the carnage. 

Compensation for Jews was outlawed -- but, in order to save face, insurance companies maintained an image of propriety by instead disgorging funds owed to Jewish policyholders into a government account the Nazis would keep. As such, the government came away with 1.3 million reichsmarks after orchestrating a murderous riot, and its Jewish victims were stiffed 46.1 million reichsmarks. 

And, again, this was just the merest sliver of what was to come, both in the scope of its state-sponsored violence and in the degree of complicity between the government and society. The facilities within the Lodz Ghetto, the concentration camps, the factories of death that liquidated the Jewish People -- all were insured. All were inspected by agents of those still-extant, respectable companies and stocked with parts from other still-extant respectable companies. 

If Kristallnacht was where it all ended, we would remember it still. Instead we recall it for being the comparatively infinitesimal first step down the Worst Path Ever. 

If Perkins doesn't know this, he is horribly ignorant. If he does, he is horribly cruel. 

It is many months yet until the Day of Atonement. But it will come, as surely as a San Francisco Kristallnacht will not. 

Perkins has much to atone for. 

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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