In December 2010, the movie “The Social Network” brought the story of Facebook to theaters. Starring Jesse Eisenberg (Justice League) as Mark Zuckerberg, and Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spider-Man) and Justin Timberlake (The Price of Tomorrow) as co-founders Eduardo Saverin and Sean Parker, the film delves into the behind-the-scenes process that turned a resentful Zuckerberg — who had created a platform to smear his ex-girlfriend — into the world’s youngest billionaire yet.
At one point, the film shows Mark and his colleague, Parker, waiting for a meeting with a possible investor in a dark antechamber. Face to face with the host, the duo are informed that they will receive a generous contribution of half a million dollars, decisive capital for the growth of the company and guaranteeing the investor a seat on the board of directors. of Facebook for the next 17 years. This man is Peter Thiel, the billionaire whom the press now describes as “the villain of Silicon Valley” and who has become one of the godfathers of the American right.
Born in Frankfurt, Germany, where his parents emigrated from during his childhood, Thiel grew up in the United States and, before venturing into the world of technology, studied philosophy and law at the University from Stanford. After working for a few months in a New York law firm, he joined the investment bank Credit Suisse, which opened the doors to the profession of venture capitalist.
With his fortune, came the habit of investing in young entrepreneurs under the age of 20 and ready to drop out of university. He launched Thiel Capital Management and, in 1998, co-founded the payment company that would become PayPal. In the 1980s, he started the venture capital firm Founders Fund, which backed Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Zuckerberg’s Facebook. Until February of this year, Thiel served on the board of Grupo Meta and was described by biographers and technology analysts as one of the most powerful voices in Silicon Valley.
“Peter has been a valued member of our Board of Directors and I am deeply grateful for all he has done for our business – from believing in us when few would, to teaching me so many business lessons , the economy and the world,” said Mark Zuckerberg. in a report. Thiel, in turn, expressed his confidence in Meta’s future and congratulated his former colleague. Your goal from now on will be to invest in Republican candidates running in the midterm elections and determine control of the US Congress.
Libertarian, conservative or “conservative”?
It is no coincidence that the most recent biography of Peter Thiel, written by journalist Max Chafkin, is called “The Contrarian” or “O Do Contra”, in loose translation: the businessman is the one of Silicon Valley’s most disparate figures, sometimes described as a visionary, sometimes as an eccentric tycoon. In favor of his well-known aptitude for trends and his audacity to swim against the tide at university and, later, at Big Tech, it is worth mentioning the release of his first book, “The Diversity Myth: Multiculturalism and Political Intolerance on Campus”, written in partnership with his former Stanford colleague and future venture capitalist, David Sacks.
In short, two decades before “cancellation culture” dominated public debate, the duo warned of the emergence of a cynical, freedom-opposed postmodernism in universities. Thiel and Sacks described the emergence of programs that encouraged not criticism but division; not the study and understanding of human dimensions such as sexuality and race, but a genuine obsession with these subjects, which would become the lenses through which every individual should be seen and interpreted. The revamped version of the class struggle that would turn into a new witch hunt. The book was published under the banner of Independent Studies in Political Economy, the Stanford University study group that Thiel helped found and bring together liberal and conservative scholars from across the country.
Soon after, Thiel’s emergence as an influential businessman brought his writings to the fore. In 2009, writing about his political position, the investor declared himself a libertarian and caused controversy by declaring that he did not believe that freedom and democracy were compatible. In the same text, he argued that the vote for women and the increase in social security recipients had made it difficult to elect libertarian politicians. Criticized, he had to explain that he was not in favor of the withdrawal of women’s right to vote.
The year 2016 would bring new spotlight, as Thiel was a major campaign backer for former Republican President Donald Trump with a major donation of US$1.25 million. Dozens of reports would appear in the international press, leading the businessman to apologize, for example, for having written in “The Diversity Myth” that political correctness would make women in past relationships regret accusing their ex-rape partners.
Nonetheless, Thiel always remained critical of the progressive left, which led to him being the target of a series of gossip newspaper articles that would expose his homosexuality to the world. In response, the businessman would admit his sexual orientation at the GOP convention and sponsor a costly lawsuit against Gawker Media, brought by former wrestler Terry Bolea, who had an intimate video leaked by the publication. The process would cause the log to be closed.
Currently, the billionaire’s investments in American politics are concentrated in writer JD Vance, author of the bestseller “Hillybilly – Once Upon a Dream” (Editora Leya), which tells the story of class degradation American average. A staunch supporter of Trump, Vance is a candidate for the US Senate from the state of Ohio and, along with Thiel, is one of the main investors in the Rumble platform, which aims to be an alternative to Facebook and Twitter with the promise of freedom. of expression.
Fifteen other Senate and congressional candidates were being considered by Thiel’s US$20.4 million investment in the Republican Party, including current Texas Governor Ted Cruz. He also helped fund the National Conservative Conference, an event that brought together representatives of America’s counterculture. A recent Vanity Fair report points to the different facets of the “movement” which, contrary to what is often portrayed, ranges from critical leftists to the rise of “woke” culture to mainstream liberals and nationalist conservatives. Thiel himself has been criticized in the press for portraying himself as a libertarian, but saying, for example, that big tech companies shouldn’t do business with China. Additionally, he is named as one of those responsible for encouraging Elon Musk to buy Twitter.
Peter Thiel, in the end, shamelessly assumes the epithet conferred by the biographer Chakfin. At 20 years old and endowed with a fortune estimated at 6 billion dollars, the billionaire does not hide his taste for the opposition to the main stream. Another curious fact that goes in this direction is that, in his book “From Zero to Um”, released in 2014, the investor says that every time he interviews someone for a job, he asks: “On what important truth very few people agree? with you?” The goal, he says, is to identify people who can “break the consensus, without fear of being unpopular.”
René Girard and competition in Silicon Valley
Part of this rare conviction is perhaps due to one of the most salient elements of Peter Thiel’s training: during his studies at Stanford, he was a student of the French philosopher and anthropologist René Girard, to whom he attributes a big influence. A critic of burgeoning postmodernism in the academy itself in the 1980s, Girard became known for his studies of desire, notably for the elaboration of mimetics. In summary, the researcher opposes the idea that human desire is spontaneous: it is, in fact, the result of a process of imitation and competition which inevitably leads to violence.
Girard argued that, from time to time, the escalation of these “mimetic crises”, through the intensification of competition for the objects of desire in a given community, would lead its members to elect a scapegoat to “pay” the group sins. . This process would lead to the emergence of culture and religion, essential elements for the cohesion of a community and the containment of violence. His obvious conclusion was that a completely secularized society would be doomed to conflict. After a process of personal conversion, Girard became a strong believer in Christianity. One of its main promoters in Brazil was the philosopher Olavo de Carvalho.
With Girard’s thought in sight, Thiel’s fixation on the riptide takes on new contours. “The advice I have is not to be too competitive. The system forces you to compete. You compete, you win, you run and repeat. You need to find something where you are not constantly staring at the people around you. Have another point of reference. You have to find a transcendence,” advises Thiel. “Don’t look for competition. In doing so, you lose sight of what is truly important and meaningful. Think outside the box,” he wrote on another occasion.
If the French philosopher is right, in the end, it is to be expected that a generation’s obsession with single thought will lead not only to unbridled competition, but to the collapse of trust, dialogue and, ultimately, the common good. If, on the one hand, it is naive to believe that a single “no” in Silicon Valley can change the game, on the other hand, the presence of a powerful player with such prospects can make arguments more interesting.