Vibe shift
04/09/2024 // News Editors // Views

When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax a little and use more normal means of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock—to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures. - Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners

A few years ago, a software engineer at Google named James Damore published an internal memo—in response to a mandatory diversity training program he attended—titled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber”.

(Article by Santiago Pliego republished from

Damore, by all conceivable metrics the kind of competent, curious engineer that tech companies pay mountains of money to retain, made the unforgivable mistake of essentially asking: “Hey, what if Reality—and not targeted misogyny—accounts for the fact that more men than women work in tech? Also, why does it feel like I could get fired for asking this?”

He was, of course, fired less than three months later for “[advancing] incorrect assumptions about gender” and for raising a perspective that “is not a viewpoint that I or this company endorses, promotes, or encourages,”1 said Danielle Browne, Google’s VP of Diversity, Integrity, and Governance.

What struck me the most in revisiting his story is that this happened at the end of 2017. In my mind, this was something that happened circa 2012—at least or nearly a decade ago, with enough time for the Overton Window to collapse to the point where this kind of discussion is now ubiquitous on X and in other places.

Had he waited for the Vibe Shift, Damore could have posted the above tl;dr to a receptive audience of tens of millions:

It’s hard to say exactly how long it’s taken for the eponymous vibe to shift, but everyone knows it’s happening. For at least the last six months, not a day has gone by when I haven’t seen something, heard a statement, read a post, or had a conversation with someone that doesn’t leave me completely shocked—in a good way.

“This would not have happened a year ago. Vibe shift.”

The Vibe Shift I’m talking about is the speaking of previously unspeakable truths, the noticing of previously suppressed facts. I’m talking about the give you feel when the walls of Propaganda and Bureaucracy start to move as you push; the very visible dust kicked up in the air as Experts and Fact Checkers scramble to hold on to decaying institutions; the cautious but electric rush of energy when dictatorial edifices designed to stifle innovation, enterprise, and thought are exposed or toppled.

Fundamentally, the Vibe Shift is a return to—a championing of—Reality, a rejection of the bureaucratic, the cowardly, the guilt-driven; a return to greatness, courage, and joyous ambition.

It is best exemplified by this meme I made in my viral response against Paul Graham’s explanation for why young men are overwhelmingly more conservative and young women overwhelmingly more liberal. When he argued that this trend has a “boringly obvious” explanation (basically “boys and girls don’t spend as much time together anymore”), I took a different approach:

As a society, is much easier to be detached from reality if you’re sloshing around the SaaS casino of the 2010s, where things are easy and you can generate life-changing money by shipping the 10th notetaking app of the year or posting on Instagram. It’s much safer to keep your mouth shut about The Current Thing—no matter how insane—if the alternative is to have your life destroyed.

But we do not live in either easy or safe times, and as the cultural, technical, and political stakes get higher, a stoical “just keep your mouth shut” attitude—surprise!—just doesn’t cut it.

As Isaiah Berlin writes,

“This [a cowardly retreat towards the inward] is certainly what happened in Ancient Greece when Alexander the Great began to destroy the city-States, and the Stoics and the Epicureans began to preach a new morality of personal salvation, which took the form of saying that politics was unimportant, civil life was unimportant, all the great ideals held up by Pericles and by Demosthenes, by Plato and Aristotle, were trivial and as nothing before the imperative need for personal individual salvation.”2

Most folks in the tech and venture orbits are probably aware of the most salient example of the vibe shift in startups: the happenings in The Gundo. The tl;dr on the Gundo is a bunch of bright, young, ultra-ambitious dudes in El Segundo, CA have forsaken the “don’t rock the boat by saying what you believe and focus on hitting the SaaS jackpot” ethos of 2010-2020s Silicon Valley and are instead unapologetically pro-America, pro-family values, openly religious, all of which they channel into challenging and important missions like manufacturing hydrocarbons out of thin airmaking it rain where it doesn't, and more generally “rebuilding America.”

But part of what is causing the Vibe Shift is that it goes well beyond the Gundo: indeed, no matter what circles you run in, almost everyone—from AI accelerationists to techbros to gun owners to Bitcoiners to Christians to normal families to children who like math to American citizens—is undergoing a variation of the same kind of pressure to conform, stagnate, decelerate.

Not only does the Current Thing demand total and unquestioning loyalty from all of these groups, but not even a year and a half ago anyone willing to speak out could be barred from participating in the public square, forever.

And then, Elon freed the bird.

As Mike Solana recently wrote,

“For over twenty years it’s been obvious the internet doomed the 20th Century media oligopoly. But it took decades for a majority of Americans to move online, and in 2016, at precisely the moment it seemed social media would replace the former order, an unofficial alliance of powers refortified an elitist hold on discourse. A year ago, Elon shattered that alliance. The thought criminals were freed, and the window of acceptable discourse broadened until it broke — a total Overton collapse. Now, for better and for worse, there is no more curation, there are no more fake trends, there are no more Washington Post-employed state sock puppets propped up artificially, and there is no more political censorship. Yes, whatever Elon finds personally annoying tends to vanish (R.I.P. Substack links), and he’s still not been tested by a major election. But, for now at least, news trends are dominated by stories people actually care about (even when they suck). This has never happened before, and so the phenomenon necessarily poses opportunity that has never before existed.” [emphasis mine].

It is hard to overstate how much Elon’s purchase of Twitter has accelerated (and perhaps directly caused) the Vibe Shift. The old ways of cutting and slicing the world have broken down, and now the most unexpected groups have found themselves as co-belligerents in an existential war to preserve our ability to speak, compute, build, worship, transact, and live in peace.

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