The Corner

A Chat with Peter Thiel

Don’t miss this interview with Peter Thiel — president of Clarium Capital (a hedge fund), famed Internet-startup investor, and renaissance intellectual to boot. We talk about everything from net neutrality, to the higher education bubble (Thiel explains why he’s paying 20 college students $100k a piece to drop out every year), to philosophy. It’s a long one, and he gets pretty cerebral at times, but it contains a lot of original, rigorous, and very interesting ideas. Here are some samples:

On “online communities”:

But the basic problem, or basic fact, is that people are biological, physical entities that live in the real world. So the Internet really cannot be a substitute for reality. One of the main factors behind Facebook’s success, relative to a number of earlier attempts, is that it was focused on real identities.

On political correctness:

…the central problem in Leo Strauss is the problem of political correctness, which is the whole idea of Persecution and the Art of Writing – the idea that societies are less tolerant than people think, that there are truths that cannot be told and people have to disguise what they say. The problem of political correctness is a much deeper and more pervasive problem than is generally believed in the optimistic liberal understanding of the world. Properly understood, the problem of political correctness is our greatest problem.


On the financial crisis:

The whole thing happened because there was not enough technological innovation. It was not really the fault of the borrowers or the lenders; the problem was that everybody had tremendous expectations that the country was going to be a much wealthier place in 2010 than it was in 1995, and in fact there’s been a lot less progress. The future is fundamentally about technology in an advanced country. So a credit crisis happens when the technological progress is not as good as people expected.

Note: A number of readers have written me, concerned about the word ‘anathetical.’ As far as I can tell it is Thiel’s own invention, and means roughly “according to the same idea” (think of the ‘ana’ in ‘analogical’ combined with the ‘thetical’ of ‘antithetical’). Thiel makes clear he believes in thinking outside the box in investment, education, and urban theory — evidently in language, too.

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