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Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

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The Human Inclination to Rewrite History

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“History is written by the victors” – maybe said by Winston Churchill
History is Written By the Winners” - George Orwell
“To the victor belong the spoils” – New York Senator William L. Marcy

Yesterday I wrote a post about my first experience as a venture capitalist. I didn’t try to dramatize anything – I just wrote what I remembered. I got a handful of emails from people involved in some way.

One line that jumped out at me was “Nice to see at least one guy who is not into rewriting history.”

Another that jumped out at me from a different person was “I didn’t know the history with you and Netgen.  Sorry that it was a hard experience.   The ironic thing is I have always considered you one of the three fairy godfathers of Netgen.”

Today Fred Wilson wrote a fantastic post titled “My First Investment“. He bluntly referred to it “a shitshow” in a comment on my post. Joanne Wilson also wrote about her first angel investment (Curbed) which recently had a nice exit.

I love these origin stories – both the successes and the failures. While I didn’t experience Fred and Joanne’s, they both write from the heart so I expect they are their truthful stories. But as I read so many other origin stories, especially those that are presented by third parties as histories or by respected thinkers, politicians, or journalists as justification for their current position, I’m reminded of the quotes at the beginning of this post.

I ran across a great juxtaposition of this today. On Twitter, I saw a link to a NY Times OpEd from David Brooks on marijuana titled Weed: Been There. Done That.I normally don’t pay any attention to what Brooks writes, but I clicked since it showed up in my Twitter stream and read it. It felt like bizarre, sanctimonious bullshit, especially the punchline “In legalizing weed, citizens of Colorado are, indeed, enhancing individual freedom. But they are also nurturing a moral ecology in which it is a bit harder to be the sort of person most of us want to be.”

So I tweeted something about whether Brooks still drinks alcohol in an effort to be amusing. I was then pointed on Twitter to an amazing post by Gary Greenberg, who was one of the people Brooks referred to in his OpEd about the kids he used to get high with. It was titled “I smoked pot with David Brooks.” Now, I don’t know Brooks or Greenberg, nor do I really have any stake in the discussion between them, but I thought it was an amazing example of how as humans we tend to rewrite history to fit our current circumstance.

Now, I don’t really care about the legalization of marijuana. I don’t smoke pot and haven’t since the one time I tried it in college and hated it. But I also don’t care if others smoke it – I have a lot of friends who enjoy it. And since I’m ignoring politics in 2014, I’m not going to pay attention to the legalization discussion.

But I do find the dissonance in origin stories to be fascinating. Maybe Brooks is remembering things differently. Maybe he’s limited by the number of words the NY Times allows him. Maybe he cares more about making a point about society linked to the legalization of marijuana. Or maybe he was drunk when he wrote this OpEd. I don’t know – that doesn’t really matter.

What does matter is that it’s important to always remember how origin stories get rewritten by the winners, by people in power, by people trying to justify their position, or just because it’s human nature. Being TAGFEE is really, really hard.

Inappropriate Fearmongering About Marijuana by Bruce Benson – CU President

Comments (35)

I’m a huge supporter of CU and CU Boulder in particular. While it’s not my alma mater, I’ve probably contributed as much or more time and money as I have to MIT, where I spent seven years. Amy and I strongly support three institutions of higher education – MIT, Wellesley (where she went to school), and CU Boulder.

I was shocked and stunned to get an email from the CU President Bruce Benson yesterday. Here are the first few paragraphs, on the CU President letterhead.

“When Colorado voters in November passed Amendment 64, which legalized small amounts of marijuana for personal use, it led to a number of questions. Most uncertainty surrounds the conflict between the new state law and federal law, under which marijuana remains illegal. Amendment 64 will be signed into law in January and take effect in January 2014.

But for the University of Colorado, the issue is clear. Marijuana threatens to cost the university nearly a billion dollars annually in federal revenue, money we can ill afford to lose.

I was personally opposed to Amendment 64 and worked on my own time to defeat it. But it passed and CU, like many entities, is working to determine the implications.

The glaring practical problem is that we stand to lose significant federal funding. CU must comply with the federal Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act, which compels us to ban illicit drugs from campus. Our campuses bring in more than $800 million in federal research funds, not to mention nearly an additional $100 million in funding for student financial aid. The loss of that funding would have substantial ripple effects on our students and our state. CU contributes $5.3 billion to Colorado’s economy annually, a good portion of it derived from our research.”

Now, independent of your view on the legalization of marijuana, my immediate reaction was that this doesn’t make any sense to me. Last night at dinner, I asked Amy, who is on the Wellesley College board, what she thought. We talked about it for a while and agreed that it seemed extremely inappropriate for Benson to be using his role as CU President to advocate his personal position on this, especially in the context of a threat of losing a billion dollars of federal funding. Neither of us knew the exact rules here, but it just didn’t sound right to me.

This morning, I saw a response from Congressman Jared Polis – our local congressman, a longtime friend of mine and very successful entrepreneur.  Jared’s post was clear and unambiguous - CU Federal Funding Unaffected by Amendment 64: Benson’s Statement Alarmist and Irresponsible.

“The University of Colorado is not in jeopardy of losing a single dime of federal funding due to Amendment 64. President Benson has allowed his personal opposition to Amendment 64 to compromise his responsibility to the university by spreading an alarmist claim that has no basis in fact.

“The legality of marijuana in Colorado tomorrow will not impact CU any more than the legality of alcohol does today. The federal Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act requires universities to adopt and implement drug prevention programs to prevent the unlawful possession, use, or distribution of illicit drugs or alcohol by students and employees on school premises or as part of any of its activities. The University’s alcohol and drug policy bans the use of alcohol and marijuana on campus and satisfies the federal requirement.

“I will not stand by and allow the reputation of the University of Colorado to be sullied by the non-existent threat of losing one billion dollars. As the federal representative the University of Colorado at Boulder, I want to reassure parents, students, and faculty that CU is not in danger of losing any federal funding due to Amendment 64. I call upon President Benson to immediately retract his message and clarify that the University is not in danger of losing any federal funds due to the passage of Amendment 64.”

I respect Benson’s personal position, but I’m offended that he’d use his position the way he just did. Jared is right – Benson owes the members of the CU community a retraction.

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