What Does Peter Thiel Want? - 2016-07-21
Tonight, in Cleveland, Silicon Valley billionaire, Facebook board member, and Donald Trump delegate Peter Thiel will address thousands of party members and journalists at the Republican National Convention. Although he has never concealed his own fringe political views—such as his contention that human freedom and representative democracy are incompatible—Thiel's open embrace of Trump has inspired some soul-searching in the proudly progressive technology sector. Among that crowd, he's typically considered a brilliant if mercurial oracle, while the broader public has, for the most part, treated Thiel with confusion and fascination, most recently over his years-long covert campaign to bankrupt Gawker Media. Thiel, who has styled himself as a deep, innovative, and strategic thinker about the big questions facing the world, will, tonight, have the biggest audience he has ever had. So what is he going to ask for?
Thiel's speech is likely to be the most sober that convention-goers have heard in what has been, up to this point, a remarkably content-free festival of anger and confusion. Early reports about the address have indicated that Thiel intends to praise Trump's anti-interventionism and "economic credentials." (He also reportedly plans to acknowledge that he is proud to be a gay man.) But from the vantage point of Thiel's philosopher-capitalist persona, there isn't much of substance in Trumpism to praise: His political agenda is mostly a posture, an attitude of defiance. Which may explain both why Thiel has signed on to Trump's campaign, and why Trump has granted him one of the most high-profile slots in the convention schedule, just three speakers before the candidate himself. Trump needs ideas, and Thiel needs a political vehicle for his.
Those ideas boil down to a belief that the conventional givens of bourgeois capitalism—monopolies are bad, democracy is good, equality is a virtue, all people must eventually die—are little more than superstitions hindering the advance of the human project. Bold visionaries who are capable of seeing through the shibboleths of the Enlightenment can, and should, refashion the world after their own desires. They can live forever, make their own laws, travel through outer space, control the flow of information, ingest the content of the world's conversations into servers under their control. As for the rest of us—we are users of services he has funded to distract us, providing the data he can monetize to fund his dreams.