Peter Thiel’s candidates are more unabomber than technical brothers

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last March, Arizona Senate candidate Blake Masters was asked to name an ideological influence. Rather than answer Ayn Rand or French philosopher Rene Girard (a favorite of Masters’ benefactor, tech billionaire Peter Thiel), Masters quoted Ted Kaczynski.

Yes, that would be the same man who killed strangers through the mail as the so-called ‘Unabomber’.

His answer surprised many. Why would a technology venture capitalist who co-authored a book on building the future call a playful terrorist? However, it was a fitting heterodox paradox for a member of the Thielverse.

Like his patron, Masters has joined a seemingly opposing figure in his pursuit of political power. Kaczynski was a reactionary—a trait that seemed more important to Masters than attitudes to technology. While confusing, Masters’ endorsement and approval of his rhetoric (along with other Thiel surrogates) strangely makes sense.

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Ted Kaczynski was not a hippie breakout, as some assume, and his manifesto was not an extremist interpretation of the global environmental consciousness of the 1960s. Anyone who has bothered to read even the first few pages of his manifesto knows that Kaczynski was a fanatical culture warrior and reactionary conservative, both socially and technologically.

While mainstream conservatives cared about feminism and multiculturalism, seeing them as left-wing ideological constructs (as Thiel argued in the 1995 book he co-authored The diversity myth), Kaczynski focused more on technological advancement as the mother of these movements. For him, political correctness was an aberration of modern life, the result of not meeting our basic human needs independently. He argued that technology inevitably becomes a tool for authoritarian, communist central planners and that, consequently, technology and freedom are mutually exclusive.

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Whether it’s the scourge of political correctness, the threat of the ‘awakened’ Big Tech, or the rise of the tech-savvy Chinese Communist Party – you probably understand why parts of Kaczynski’s manifesto have resonated in the Thielverse. On the other hand, Kaczynski’s main macrothesis directly contradicts Thiel’s, who wrote in his infamous 2009 Cato Unbound essay on seasteading (which proposes a libertarian utopian society without government on boats and artificial islands) stated that “we are in a deadly race between politics and technology” and that our fate “may depend on the effort of a single individual who builds and propagates the machine of freedom.”

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This diametrically opposed thesis, which more broadly holds that technological stagnation leads to societal conflict, is something Thiel continues to explain, most recently blaming the “political madness” of our time.

This begs the question: Why do Thiel’s political surrogates seem to be spinning on a platform of neo-luddite populism? They are contributing to the political madness, rather than selling solutions to the stagnation it caused.

Photo illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty

Aside from his explicit endorsement of Ted Kaczynski, Masters also recently regretted automated cash registers, demanding that we “bring people back” and ignoring the increased demand and employment in food preparation it has created. Masters was also against COVID vaccine mandates — which isn’t necessarily anti-vaccine if argued from a libertarian perspective — but he went further and labeled them “bad.” He stood up to abortion, a medical procedure he once supported. He seemed to blame antidepressants for a school shooting. He called search engine rankings on Tucker Carlson (who has also positively quoted the Unabomber), seemingly the point from search engines is ranked results.

By eschewing optimism and embracing neo-luddite narratives, Thiel and his followers miss a major political opportunity to steer the Republican political narrative in a new direction.

Masters is no outlier in his neo-luddite rhetoric. JD Vance – another Thiel surrogate running for the Ohio Senate – wants to ban pornography to “save” families. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz – an old patron of Thiel –accused mass shootings at modern innovations such as video games and prescription drugs. Cruz has also in the past attacked encryption, a technology essential to protect individuals from surveillance, and has long been attacked by well-meaning technophobes. Missouri Senator Josh Hawley — yet another candidate close to Thiel — called for Chinese Communist Party-style time limits on social media — a bizarre level of government overreach — while also warning about the CCP’s influence on TikTok .

The idea that technology is both a tool for communist control and the root of evil in society is Kaczynskiesque and a common theme among Thiel’s political surrogates. That Masters would quote him directly suggests that these similarities may be more than coincidence. Even Thiel himself has suggested similar ideas, most notably in 2018 when he said, “AI (artificial intelligence) is communist. Crypto is libertarian.” Then, in 2021, Thiel wondered if bitcoin might also be a communist tool.

The rhetoric of Thiel’s political protégés—whether calculating kayfabe, sincere, or a bit of both—is a reiteration of a political movement. It’s Trumpism with a touch of Kaczynski, a 1 on n political innovation. Ironically, this is the kind of disappointing iterative change that Masters and Thiel warn about in their book Zero to One: Notes on Startups or How to Build the Future.

Populist right sees ‘American carnage’ instead of ‘American innovation’. And it’s part of why neo-Luddism — rather than tech progressiveism — has been the political rhetoric of the Thielverse. It is almost certainly rooted in Thiel’s pessimism about optimism. Thiel told Mitt Romney in 2016, “I think the most pessimistic candidate is going to win because if you’re too optimistic it suggests you’re out of touch.”

He was right then, as a political forecaster, but that doesn’t mean he’s right now.

By eschewing optimism and embracing neo-luddite narratives, Thiel and his followers miss a major political opportunity to steer the Republican political narrative in a new direction. They could, if they wished, work to end the “political madness” and zero-sum battles that arise from memetic conflicts caused by technological stagnation. They forget that just like the next Mark Zuckerberg will not build a social network (to paraphrase) Zero to one) the next Donald Trump will not build a wall. The next Republican firehouse outbreak will build something new, fresh, and strange. Instead they do… this.

Masters and Vance, in particular, had painfully obvious opportunities to blaze an alternative path to political appeal, framed through the lens of technological advancement. But only on the issues of cryptocurrencies and nuclear power did she to take this approach. On the latter, they took on the undeniable failure of the progressive environmental movement, whose anti-nuclear luddism led directly to the burning of more fossil fuels, contributing to increased climate change today.

Photo illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty

The college issue was another obvious opportunity, one with which Masters has experience that stems from his time running the Thiel Fellowship (a philanthropic effort that questioned the value of the university by paying kids to quit and becoming an entrepreneur). to become). Masters, in particular, could have spent political energy pointing out that higher education in America is a system the Democrats want to fully subsidize, but is also the kind of fake meritocracy that the left hates, causing the kind of systematic discrimination. that they disapprove is maintained.

Employer screening for a degree excludes nearly 80 percent of Latinos, nearly 70 percent of African Americans, and 70 percent of rural Americans (the highly demographic JD Vance must win a Senate seat).

The ability to offer something less old than “BUILD A WALL!” (and less divisive), while it was all appealing to minority swing voters, was ignored. Rather than take on the oligopoly of hiring credentials and offer new, tech-assisted paths to work that Democrats don’t favor, Masters instead blamed black people for gun violence, and partnered with Vance to promote the racist “big replacement theory’. Both continue to tout Trump’s border wall as a solution to opportunity in a world where employment and location are increasingly disconnected.

Foreign policy saw a similar waste of opportunity, but offered some substantial proprietary assets. Instead of saying “Who cares about Ukrainians,” JD Vance could have hailed a new era of warfare, where cheap drones defeat expensive tanks — and where running and defending the free world doesn’t inevitably lead to a balloon shortage and increase in the U.S. overseas army means presence.

Instead of blaming antidepressants for gun violence, they could have blamed mental health and the FDA’s barriers to drug access. This would also have been a way to protect access to abortion – a popular but outwardly undisclosed issue among Republican women – without having to act on political divisive grounds.

If Peter Thiel’s political influence operation were more technologically advanced, he might lobby Florida Governor Ron DeSantis not to remove Disney’s jurisdiction over Reedy Creek Improvement District, the site for Disney’s dormant project for a futuristic city: EPCOT. This would be the kind of corporate sovereignty and futuristic industrialism that Thiel said was only possible on platforms built in international waters in his aforementioned Cato Unbound essay.

For any problem that arises from scarcity, tech progressiveism offers a third way: a purple pill as an alternative to the usual red and blue. A little less divisive, more constructive and more progressive.

It won’t be clear until November whether Thiel’s pessimism about optimism (and indulgence in playful populism) will succeed or, rather, produce mediocre results and cost him the political clout he desires. Whether it does or not may depend on Democrats — and some Republicans — seizing the political opportunity of an optimistic tech-advanced platform.