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“Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?”
It's been an extraordinary few days in Silicon Valley — a high-profile VC firm has been “blasted off the earth” and the industry is reacting in unusually visible ways.
The reactions have varied from the half-assed apology to the pre-emptive apology to the we-took-care-of-it apology to the apology-of-the-day apology, from prominent VC firms (Lightspeed, Lowercase, 500Startups and Binary respectively). Sadly all immediately put one in mind of Captain Renault in *Casablanca*.
Industries have a mythology. In the claustrophobic bubble that is Silicon Valley, one item-from-scripture is that it's a small world and if you attempt to speak truth to power, you will never eat lunch in this town again. The circle behind this logic, which appears to be a recipe for appalling behavior, may have finally been broken. There is no doubt that something explosive needed to happen for rules of engagement to morph. But even now the only firm that other VCs are prepared to confront is Binary, mostly because "there is no downside". I am hopeful that this lily-livered stance will change in the coming days.
The thing that really sent me for a toss this week was reading the full text of Ann Lai’s complaint. It’s a complaint, a set of allegations. I know about, and believe in, innocent-until-proven-guilty, but it has the ring of authenticity. I have now read it five times during a super busy week and every time my skin has crawled. Where did the offenders learn their trade? How were they brought up? How were they educated? How did they conclude that this is an appropriate way to deal with a fellow human being? I have played hardball many times in difficult business situations, and will do so again many times, but this is not hardball – this is pathological behavior.
The title of this essay is from the US Army vs. McCarthy hearing, when Joseph Welch said to McCarthy: "You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?" Forget all the issue labels -- gender, race, power, liberal vs. conservative -- no matter which "side" of those debates you are on, doesn't all the back-and-forth come down to a very simple thing, namely one of plain decency?
Decency comes in part from how we are nurtured by mentors -- in childhood, in school/college, and in our work environment. At Amasia, we try fostering an environment of decency -- only time will tell if we are getting it right. In the meanwhile we've been fortunate to find founders, teams and coinvestors who think the same way.