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Peter Thiel is Really, Really Cool

Peter Thiel is Really, Really Cool

It is quite common to find naysayers and doomers. They’re ubiquitous on the internet, in politics, the news, etc. A rarer find is someone who sees the dismal state of things and puts forth a creative way to solve a problem. Among these few positive forces I can think of, Peter Thiel is the most dynamic character I have read about. Yesterday, Forbes online published a great profile of Thiel that gives an interesting overview of his ideas and projects:
Almost every problem–the shortcomings of our political and educational systems, the lingering financial disaster, market bubbles, energy crises, the failed promises of the developing world, resource-based wars–stems from what he calls “stalled technological innovation.” What a better place this would be, he often muses, if we could press the reset button and go back to the late 1950s and ’60s and realize the predictions of science fiction that failed to materialize: ubiquitous space travel and colonization, robots à la the Jetsons, underwater cities, desalinization, reforestation of deserts and much more. Because we’re all running harder and harder just to stay in place, the only salvation is big scientific breakthroughs.

It would be easy to write off Thiel as a “wackaloon,” as one political blogger has called him. Indeed, Thiel is putting serious money behind companies and groups bent on extending life, colonizing on ocean platforms, commercializing space, promoting so-called friendly artificial intelligence and leapfrogging DNA sequencing, among other causes.”

One can say what they will about the feasibility of Thiel’s plans or opinions, but at least the man isn’t using taxpayer money to inflate his ego or find his place in history (unlike our modern political class). In these times, we need visionaries who act on their beliefs and take their own resources to fill voids and influence others. I’ll be keeping my eye on Thiel in the years to come – campaigning for him.


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The main obstacle to technological innovation today is the lack of cultural innovation. We adamantly demand solutions to problems that exist because the model that took us to where we are, basically a model based on the abundance of cheap oil, has run its course. The politics surrounding this childish desire for permanence is so toxic that we just can't have an intelligent discussion about light bulbs and how utterly wasteful incandescent light bulbs truly are.

Most of how we feel about our standard of living (our pursuit of happiness) is in our heads. Beyond being fed, clothed, housed and felling safe, everything else is imagined. Despite spending 2-5 hours commuting in wasteful automobiles, we still believe that the problem is to build more highways rather than redesigning cities. Somehow, being stuck in traffic holding on to hope that things will get better is preferred over designing communities where people can live and work close by.

Homes could be made much more energy efficient by building them into the ground. Yes, it's an odd aesthetic at first but I am sure that our architects can find a way to apply the classic "golden proportion" that defines the Western aesthetic into whatever they dream up. And we would rediscover the thrill of moving into a better future that doesn't completely abandon the important things about the past.

It's the lack of cultural imagination that is killing us. It could be that we are ALL stuck on stupid.

Angel Artiste | January 27, 2011 at 4:22 pm

If Pasadena Phil wants to live in an underground ant colony with like-minded ants, I support his right to do so. However, I maintain the right to live as I choose, freely on the surface along with a few acres of my own property.

I don't doubt his assertion that life would be much more efficient and less wasteful if we were all forced into communal camps, i.e., socialist utopian cities. This may appeal to some, but not to me.

There have been many cultural "tinkerers" throughout history, attempting to innovate society as an amorphous entity without regard to the principles of personal freedom and responsibility. From Marx, Lenin, Mao, Hitler, to Castro and Chavez, these have all been spectacular failures resulting in the deaths of millions of their own people and enslavement of the survivors.

Technical innovation is a completely different matter. As long as technology is developed and maintained by private enterprize in a free market system, it is generally a force for good. Once government becomes involved, innovation is stifled due to the ruling class need to control and regulate anything that may be a threat to its power.

The world would be a much better place with unencumbered technical innovation, where people are free to solve their problems without government intervention. On the other hand, we would probably be living in underground slave colonies if the "cultural innovators" were allowed to run rampant.

After all, what do the ignorant, unwashed masses need other than a few crumbs of food, a few rags to wear, and a safe hole to live in? Personal freedom? Personal responsibility? Ha! Merely the delusions of a few misguided right-wing jingoistic nut cases who used to live in the greatest society in human history until those with cultural utopian fantasies started taking over.

I'm sorry to upset the apple cart here, but it seems to me the professor and commenters are avoiding the true cause of our cultural innovation meltdown. IMO the elephant in the room is we have too many lawyers, which leads foreseeably to an over-abundance of litigation. Mostly over minutia reasonable men could've mutually resolved but for the sideline urging of litigators, et al.

Not saying the law isn't a noble profession. It is. Years ago attended law school, myself. But anyone involved in innovative projects these days knows that at least 60% of the cost involved is in product liability mitigation. That's at least three times more than it should be. And I haven't even mentioned the main reason health care is suddenly so much more expensive – CYA testing and second opinion referrals. No, we simply have more lawyers than we can afford.

So as a public service I've organized a group of like-minded associates into a non-profit entity which locates, collects and refurbishes old, dilapidated buses in which to occasionally schedule charity tours with the goal of carrying loads of excess lawyers off cliffs. Note: Sorry. Contributions are not tax deductible.

(Sorry for being late but I had OpenID problems)

Angel Artiste , that is an intellectually dishonest characterization of the point I was making. You twisted my comments to suit your libertarian rant. I am a Maoist? Seriously? Please explain. Maybe the word “culture’ has you confused into arguing that all defense of government is based in communism or some other totalitarian ideology. Well guess what, free societies can form a consensus to design their cities any way they want. Urban planning is not communism, it is how you design cities. The formation of cities is what defines civilization. There are no forest civilizations. Planning is what makes us “civilized”.

We have more than enough technology already to live much better and more efficient lives. Why are our cities perpetually clogged by one-driver gas-guzzling cars? Was that by design? Why do we put up with it? All we have to do is change the way think. Why don’t people exercise their freedom by choosing to live and work in the same community, to work at home? Well for the most part, they can’t afford it. Because of technology? No, because of bad urban planning and bad government policy. Dirty words to a libertarian but absolutely essential for civilization.

I am a fervent advocate of robust technological innovation but we have to do better than to misdirect that technology into multiple video screens in gas-guzzling cars with twenty cup holders and state-of-the-art entertainment systems. We need technology that liberates us to be more productive and live richer lives, technology that allows us the freedom to be there with our families so we can raise our children ourselves without pre-school and daycare, for instance. We don’t need technology anesthetizing us to harsh conditions our poor life choices force upon us. Flashy entertainment is not progress.

So would you like to reframe your argument?