Now burning up my social media (not to mention the Oculus Rift subbreddit) is this jaw-dropping report from The Daily Beast that Palmer Luckey has been secretly funding a pro-Trump organization founded by some uniquely noxious online racists:
Along with Luckey, Nimble America was founded by two moderators of Reddit’s r/The_Donald, which helped popularize Trump-themed white supremacist and anti-Semitic memes along with 4Chan and 8Chan. A questionnaire to become a moderator at r/The_Donald posted in March had applicants answer the questions “Is there a difference between white nationalism and white supremacy?” and “Was 9/11 an inside job?”
... Before becoming directly involved in the process, Luckey met the man who would serve as the liaison for the nascent political action group, and provide legitimacy to a Reddit audience for later donations without having to reveal Luckey’s identity: Breitbart tech editor and Trump booster Milo Yiannopoulos.
Yiannopoulos, of course, is also one of the official/unofficial leaders of GamerGate (which seems to have mostly matriculated to backing the Trump cause), while Breitbart was developed into a haven for white nationalists by chairman Stephen Bannon... who now leads Trump's campaign. I'm actually not entirely surprised by this news, as I've often seen Luckey write or Tweet things which seemed supportive of Gamergate and/or Trump.
The real curiosity, to me, is the virtual one: How much does Luckey's support for Trump relate to his views on virtual reality, and its importance to society? One clue might be in this passage I wrote for my Wired article last February, which was abbreviated in the final copy, but here's the original, unedited version:
Shortly after Facebook announced the acquisition of the virtual reality company Oculus VR for 2 billion dollars, the firm’s very young founder appeared onstage at a Silicon Valley VR conference. Someone in the audience asked Palmer Luckey a rather odd but revealing question: Why did he and his chief technology officer, video game pioneer John Carmack, often speak of a “moral imperative” to bring virtual reality to the masses?
"This is one of those crazy man topics," Luckey answered, “but it comes down to this: Everyone wants to have a happy life, but it's going to be impossible to give everyone everything they want." Instead, he went on, developers can now create virtual versions of real experiences that are only enjoyed by the planet’s privileged few, which they can then bestow to the destitute of the world.
“It's easy for us to say, living in the great state of California, that VR is not as good as the real world,” Luckey went on, “but a lot of people in the world don't have as good an experience in real life as we do here.”
In fact, as Luckey suggests to me in a follow-up conversation, it may be people from developing nations who’ll be among the first to embrace virtual reality. While the technology must become extremely compelling to attract well-off Californians away from their enviable real lives, he argues, “[i]f you’re talking about Chinese workers or people who are living in Africa, I think the threshold is a lot lower… it could be a lot of the early adopters are the people who have a greater incentive to escape the real world.”
At the time, this struck me as Silicon Valley utopianism, reflecting a genuine (if misguided) desire for the technology he was creating to benefit the poor. That might still be the case. But now factoring in the Trump support, Luckey's thoughts take on a different cast. Because if you desire a world with walls keeping out refugees and the destitute while the wealthy pay even less taxes than they already are now, wouldn't you want a way to effectively keep the roiling masses tranquilized?
Update, 7:10pm: Luckey just posted this carefully worded apology on Facebook below:
This is a very carefully worded apology that leaves more questions than answers. Seeing as this organization was founded by two prominent Donald Trump supporters (indeed, leaders of Reddit's largest pro-Trump subreddit), it's difficult to understand how his money only had to do with supporting "fresh ideas on how to communicate with young voters". Also, this doesn't explain Luckey's on-record behavior that seems supportive of Trump.
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