A San Francisco Techie Compared Poor People to Trash. The Worst Part Is How His Friends Reacted.

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Dec. 11 2013 3:22 PM

San Francisco Techie Says "Lower Part of Society" Should Be Segregated

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Greg Gopman apologized for comparing homeless people to "hyenas," but some of his Facebook friends didn't see anything wrong with his comments.

Screenshot / Facebook

San Francisco's class war is getting ugly.

Earlier this week, we had an alleged Google employee obnoxiously telling working-class people they don’t belong in San Francisco. But his rant seemed too perfectly stereotypical to be real—and it was. The “obnoxious Google employee” turned out to be an obnoxious union organizer trying to make Google look bad as part of an anti-gentrification protest.

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Now comes a Facebook post from a noted San Francisco techie that is, if anything, even more over-the-top than the fake Google guy’s tirade. The crazy part is, it actually seems to be real. And the even crazier part is, all of his Facebook friends seem to agree with it.

Will Oremus Will Oremus

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

The post came from one Greg Gopman, founder of an outfit called AngelHack that claims to run “the world’s largest hackathon competition” in cities around the world. As Valleywag’s Sam Biddle points out, Gopman isn’t just some rando—he’s been the subject of flattering feature stories in Business Insider and TechCrunch, among others. On Tuesday night, he apparently returned to San Francisco after some globe-trotting and hackathon-ing and decided to weigh in via Facebook on his disappointment with his city of residence. He’s since taken the post down, but Valleywag has reprinted it in full. Here are some choice excerpts (emphasis mine):

Why the heart of our city has to be overrun by crazy, homeless, drug dealers, dropouts, and trash I have no clue.

The difference is in other cosmopolitan cities, the lower part of society keep to themselves. They sell small trinkets, beg coyly, stay quiet, and generally stay out of your way. They realize it's a privilege to be in the civilized part of town and view themselves as guests. And that's okay.

You can preach compassion, equality, and be the biggest lover in the world, but there is an area of town for degenerates and an area of town for the working class. There is nothing positive gained from having them so close to us. It's a burden and a liability having them so close to us. Believe me, if they added the smallest iota of value I'd consider thinking different 

It’s one thing to come across as naïve and condescending as part of an otherwise generally earnest attempt to help a homeless person improve his situation. It’s another to treat them as so much trash, to be swept up and shipped out along with the rest of the city’s refuse.

The sentiments are so risibly retrograde that, were they uttered by some mustachioed baron on Downton Abbey, you’d worry that the show’s writers were getting lazy, falling back on hackneyed stereotypes of villainous aristocrats. They wouldn’t sound out of place coming from the lips of Billy Zane’s character in Titanic, or the bigot Tom Buchanan in The Great Gatsby. And yet, unless there has been some truly elaborate hoax, it seems that Gopman actually wrote those words—he apologized for them today on Twitter and Facebook.

But wait—Gopman’s friends aren’t having it! Below his Facebook apology post are a series of comments from fellow techies defending Gopman’s original homeless-phobic rant.

  • One friend said he was glad Gopman spoke his mind, because even though he disagreed with the post's tone, “It isn’t like you said anything many others in the startup community aren’t saying." His comment had 14 likes at last check.
  • No way!!! Do not sorry to anyone,” added another Facebook friend.
  • "I don't think you need to apologize for anything," agreed a third.
  • The hate for the homeless wasn’t limited to San Franciscans: A New Yorker chimed in, “I agreed with you Greg. The city has created an unfortunate situation where they rely on it for handouts vs rising above and creating their own value and contributing to society. It’s one of the reasons why I don’t base my company there and do not live there full time.”

Gopman’s view on the poor—that they have no value as human beings and should be segregated from the rest of society—is, I trust, not shared by a majority of techies in San Francisco, or anywhere else. Nor are a series of similarly contemptuous comments made a few months ago by fellow San Francisco entrepreneur Peter Shih. But the comments on Gopman’s Facebook page make it clear that this is not a case of a few bad seeds giving everyone else a bad name. There is clearly a real strain in the tech world that views poor people with pure contempt, like bugs in a computer program.

The tech world is not alone in this, of course—you could probably overhear similar musings at a bar frequented by Wall Street bankers, or certain low-level Republican politicians. But it would be nice to think that there’s still hope for tomorrow’s masters of the universe—the Googlers, the startup founders, the venture capitalists—to turn out to be a little less evil than the crop that came before them. They could start by speaking up the next time one of their techie friends compares homeless people to hyenas, instead of reaching for the like button. 

Previously in Slate: 

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

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