In December 2010, the movie “The Social Network” brought the history of Facebook to theaters. With Jesse Eisenberg (Justice League) in the role of 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 behind the scenes of process that turned a resentful Zuckerberg – who had created a platform to badmouth his ex-girlfriend – into the world’s youngest billionaire so far.
At one point, the film shows Mark and his colleague, Parker , awaiting a meeting with a possible investor in a dark anteroom. Face to face with the host, the duo is informed that they will receive a generous contribution of half a million dollars, capital that is decisive for the company’s growth and guarantees the investor a seat on Facebook’s board for the next 17 years old. This man is Peter Thiel, the billionaire who is now characterized by the press as the “villain of Silicon Valley” and who has become one of the godfathers of the American right.
Born in Frankfurt, Germany, from which his parents emigrated during his childhood, Thiel grew up in the United States and, before venturing into the world of technology, studied philosophy and law at Stanford University. After a few months working in a New York law firm, he joined the investment bank Credit Suisse, which opened the doors to the trade of venture capitalist.
With his fortune, came the practice to invest in young entrepreneurs under 20 years old and willing to drop out of university. He launched Thiel Capital Management and, in 1998, co-founded the payments company that would become PayPal. In the 1980 years, he launched the venture capital firm Founders Fund, which backed Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Zuckerberg’s Facebook. Until February of this year, Thiel was on the Board of Directors 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 and I am deeply grateful for everything he has done for our company – from believing in us when few would, to teaching me so many lessons about business, economics and the world,” said Mark Zuckerberg in a statement. Thiel, in turn, expressed confidence in Meta’s future and praised his former colleague. Your focus, from now on, will be to invest in Republican candidates who run for the midterm election and determine control of the US Congress.
Libertarian, Conservative or “Conservative”?
It is not by chance that the most recent biography of Peter Thiel, written by journalist Max Chafkin, is entitled “The Contrarian” or “O Do Contra”, in free translation: the businessman is one of the 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 daring to swim against the current 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” (“ 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 the “ cancel culture” dominate public debate, the duo warned of the emergence of a cynical and averse to freedom postmodernism in universities. Thiel and Sacks described the emergence of curricula that fostered not criticism but divisiveness; not the study and understanding of human dimensions such as sexuality and race, but a true obsession with these subjects, which would become the lenses through which any individual should be seen and interpreted. The revamped version of the class struggle that would spiral 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 brought together liberal and conservative intellectuals from across the country.
Shortly later, 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 stating that he did not believe that freedom and democracy were compatible. In the same text, he argued that the female vote and the increase in social security beneficiaries had made it difficult for libertarian politicians to be elected. Criticized, he had to explain that he did not support the withdrawal of women’s right to vote.
The year of 2016 would bring new spotlight, since Thiel was one of the main funders of the campaign of former Republican President Donald Trump with a large 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 regretful of past relationships accuse their ex-partners of rape.
Nevertheless, Thiel has always remained critical of the progressive left, which led him to be the target of a series of gossip newspaper articles that would reveal his homosexuality to the world. In response, the businessman would admit his sexual orientation during the GOP convention and sponsor an expensive lawsuit against Gawker Media, filed by former wrestler Terry Bolea, who had an intimate video leaked by the publication. The process would result in the closing of the newspaper.
Currently, the billionaire’s investments in American politics are concentrated in the writer JD Vance, author of the best seller “Hillybilly – Once Upon a Dream” (Editora Leya ), which tells the story of the degradation of the American middle class. A loyal 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.
Another fifteen candidates for the Senate and Congress were contemplated by the US$ 20, 4 million invested by Thiel in the Republican Party, among them the current governor of Texas, Ted Cruz. He also helped fund the National Conservative Conference, an event that brought together exponents of the American counterculture. A recent Vanity Fair report points out the different facets of the “movement” which, contrary to what is often portrayed, ranges from critical leftists to the rise of “woke” culture to classical liberals and nationalist conservatives. Thiel himself has been criticized in the press for describing himself as a libertarian, but saying, for example, that big tech companies shouldn’t do business with China. In addition, he is named as one of those responsible for encouraging Elon Musk to buy Twitter.
Peter Thiel, in the end, shamelessly assumes the epithet bestowed by the biographer Chakfin. At 20 years old and with an estimated fortune of 6 billion dollars, the billionaire does not hide his taste for opposition to the mainstream. Another curious fact that points in this direction is that, in his book “De Zero a Um”, released in 2014, the investor says that whenever he interviews someone for a job, he asks: “On what important truth do very few people agree with you?” The objective, he says, is to identify people capable of “breaking the consensus, without fear of being unpopular”.
René Girard and the competition in Silicon Valley
Part of this rare conviction is perhaps due to one of the most striking elements in the formation of Peter Thiel: during his studies at Stanford, he was a student of the French philosopher and anthropologist, René Girard, to whom he attributes great influence. A critic of postmodernism on the rise in the academy even in the years 1980, Girard became known for his studies of desire, especially for the elaboration of mimetics. In summary, the researcher was opposed to the idea that human desire is spontaneous: it is, in fact, the result of a process of imitation and competition that inevitably leads to violence.
Girard defended that, from time to time, the escalation of these “mimetic crises”, through the intensification of competition for objects of desire in a given community, would lead its members to elect a scapegoat to “pay” for the sins of the group. This process would lead to the emergence of culture and religion, indispensable 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 supporter of Christianity. One of its main promoters in Brazil was the philosopher Olavo de Carvalho.
With Girard’s thinking in view, Thiel’s fixation on the countercurrent takes on new contours. “The advice I have is don’t be overly competitive. The system forces you to compete. You compete, you win, you race and repeat. You need to find something where you’re not constantly looking just at the people around you. Have some other reference point. You need to find some transcendence”, advises Thiel. “Don’t look for competition. In doing so, you lose sight of what is really important and meaningful. Get off the beaten path,” 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 thinking 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 trust that a single “no” in Silicon Valley is capable of changing the game, on the other hand, the presence of a powerful player with such perspectives can make disputes more interesting.