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Chamath Tells An Ugly Truth

Billionaire venture capitalist says neither he nor anyone else really cares about Uyghurs persecuted by Beijing. To our shame, he's right
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All, I have been busy most of today online at a TAC editors’ planning retreat, and then did a Covid nap crash. Woke up, ate something, and am headed back to bed. I’m definitely on the mend, but holy cow, this stuff is not playing around. Before I sign out for the day, I wanted to say something about this:

Here’s a news story about the interview with billionaire investor (and co-owner of the Golden State Warriors) Chamath Palihapitiya. Excerpt:

About 15 minutes into the podcast, Calacanis pointed to the Biden administration’s steps to curb and address China’s sweeping human rights abuses when the following conversation ensued:

Calacanis: His [President Biden’s] China policy, the fact that he came out with a statement on the Uyghurs, I thought it was very strong.

You know, it’s one of the stronger things he did, but it’s not coming up in the polls.

Palihapitiya: Let’s be honest, nobody, nobody cares about what’s happening to the Uyghurs, okay? You bring it up because you really care. And I think that’s really nice that you care but …

Calacanis: What? What do you mean nobody cares?

Palihapitiya: The rest of us don’t care. I’m just telling you a very hard truth.

Calacanis: Wait, you personally don’t care?

Palihapitiya: I’m telling you a very hard truth, okay? Of all the things that I care about. Yes, it is below my line. Okay, of all the things that I care about it is below my line.

Calacanis: Disappointing.

You can watch the fuller exchange here. Chamath says that Americans have no business speaking out on behalf of a million Uyghurs held by the Chinese in concentration camps because we have “black and brown” people held in our jails for bad reasons. Really, he says this:

There was a huge social media row, with Palihapitiya trying to backtrack on what he said. But everybody knows he was telling the truth about his feelings the first time. Years ago, this was the kind of thing we used to call a “Kinsleyan gaffe,” after Michael Kinsley, the former New Republic editor, who famously said that in Washington, a “gaffe” is when a politician inadvertently speaks an unpalatable truth.

I would like to praise Chamath for saying what he said. Oh, don’t misread me: it was as callous and hateful a statement as I’ve seen from anybody in ages. Someone on Twitter said today that this guy’s attitude must be like what a lot of Americans thought when word first leaked out about persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany. I think that’s probably right. In a just and humane world, Chamath would be dogpiled mercilessly for his inhumanity.

But we don’t live in a just and humane world. We live in Chamath’s world. The Golden State Warriors put out a statement saying that Chamath doesn’t speak for them on the issue. Maybe not technically, but in terms of action, what is the difference between the NBA’s policy towards China on the Uyghurs, and Chamath’s statement? It doesn’t exist. The entire NBA is completely on the side of Chamath, as was demonstrated a couple of years ago when that unfortunate NBA head coach team manager spoke out for the Uyghurs, who are being culturally genocided by the Chinese.

See, it’s important that nobody get the idea that these sports executives and business leaders don’t care about the Uyghurs, even though they don’t. They want to be free not to care about the Uyghurs, and to keep up their lucrative business partnership with the Chinese, without receiving criticism from Americans.

You know who else doesn’t care about the Uyghurs? Most Americans — at least not enough to punish the NBA for its heartless policy towards them. You know who also doesn’t care about the Uyghurs? Leaders of Arab Muslim nations, some of which have been deporting Uyghur refugees back to China. Just a few days ago, Gulf Arab states said that what China does to the Muslim Uyghurs is China’s business. 

Few people really care about the Uyghurs. Enes Kanter, the Turkish NBA star, is one who does. May God bless him richly. The Uyghurs are a Turkic people, by the way. And to their credit, Congress passed, and President Biden signed, a recent law pressuring China over the Uyghurs by banning the import and sale of goods made in the Xinjiang region, where the Uyghurs live. Did you know about this? I didn’t, until I happened to come across it just now in researching this story. Maybe I simply happened to overlook it when it was reported.

Others who don’t really care about the Uyghurs: many (though not all!) in the US news media. In the 1980s, there was immense, and immensely critical, coverage of South Africa over its apartheid policy oppressing blacks there. As evil as that was, it wasn’t the same thing as the genocide Beijing is waging against the Uyghurs. We do get some reporting on it here, but there is no crusade to save the Uyghurs. Unlike in the case of apartheid South Africa, the plight of the Uyghurs in China can’t be typecast into a familiar American historical drama (meaning the struggle of blacks against white supremacy).

American woke capitalism absolutely doesn’t give a damn about the Uyghurs. Think of all that money they’re making doing business with China! What’s the genocide of an ancient culture and the extermination of a distinct people when there’s wealth to be built? If some Southern red state passes a law saying penis-havers should stay out of women’s toilets, corporate boards go into moralistic convulsions. But when the Chinese put two million Uyghur Muslims in concentration camps, it’s crickets.

You know who else doesn’t care much about the Uyghurs? You and me. Well, I can’t speak for you, obviously, but I bet you are a lot more like me than you think — and I’m ashamed to admit that I’m a lot more like Chamath than I ought to be. Of course I was disgusted by what he said, but when I thought about it, what have I done to bring attention to the plight of the Uyghurs? Unlike most Americans, I actually have a platform — a small one, but a platform — that I could use to do something, however small, to defend those people against the butchers of Beijing. But I haven’t done this.

I should thank the heartless venture capitalist Chamath Palahapitiya for showing all of us what it means to have sold your soul, and for shaming me over seeing some of myself in him. I can console myself by saying that I’m not like Chamath, and would never say that I don’t care about the Uyghurs. I do care! I care in the sense that I wish the Uyghurs well, and hold the correct opinion about the Uyghurs. But honestly, so what? Am I morally that much better than Chamath? I don’t even pray for the Uyghurs, which would cost me nothing. They never cross my mind, except when I read a news story about them, and think, “Those poor people. China is ruled by monsters” — and then move on. Chamath is just saying the quiet part out loud about how the rest of the world really feels about the friendless Uyghurs.

Readers, let’s not be like this repulsive guy. I promise to do better here, writing more often about what China is doing to those people — and not just to the Uyghurs, but to Christians, Tibetans, Falun Gong practitioners, and anyone who gets in the Communist Party’s way. God forbid I should be as vile as Chamath, whose billion dollars cannot buy him a conscience.

Please take about an hour and watch this 2020 episode of PBS Frontline, about the Uyghurs and the Communist Party’s persecution of them. This is what Chamath doesn’t care about. This is what the National Basketball Association doesn’t care about. This is what the Gulf Arab states don’t care about. This is what too many of us — I accuse myself — either don’t care about, or care insufficiently about. What Beijing is doing to the Uyghurs is what it would do to anyone who opposes Chinese Communist totalitarianism. [UPDATE: As you learn in the film, Beijing has turned Xinjiang province into the most heavily monitored place in world history — and is selling the totalitarian security technology it develops there to regimes around the world. The Uyghurs are guinea pigs for an AI-powered totalitarian state that steals all human freedom. The cameras on the streets of Xinjiang, for example, use AI software to monitor facial expressions of passing Uyghurs, looking for people who are anxious or otherwise disharmonious. What’s happening in Xinjiang today is moving out to the world tomorrow.) Watch:

UPDATE: A Christian reader rightly calls me out for crossing the line in a personal insult I made towards Chamath. It was wrong of me, and I apologize to him, and to you.