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Silicon Valley’s neo-reactionaries

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Josh Marshall has some characteristically interesting thoughts about whether and to what extent people should be paying attention to/worried about Bond villain-caricature Peter Thiel. Marshall ties this into the related question of why so many Silicon techies seem to be inhabiting an ideological space somewhere between standard issue 16-year-old boy who has just discovered Ayn Rand libertarianism and the floridly unhinged neo-reactionary views of somebody like Curtis Yarvin, aka Menicus Moldbug:

 Thiel is interesting to me as an artifact of early 21st century Silicon Valley. His ideas come off as half-baked and self-indulgent. They drive the kind of affirmation which seems to follow the extremely wealthy and extremely powerful. Money takes care of a lot of problems. And Thiel has billions of dollars and lots of bad ideas. This neo-reactionary thinking actually has deep influence in Silicon Valley, a good part of it tied to the writing of a guy named Curtis Yarvin who used to go by the pseudonym Mencius Moldbug.

So who else are we talking about? Well there’s there’s Eric Weinstein, the guy who coined the phrase ‘intellectual dark web’, though perhaps half ironically. He’s a managing director of Thiel Capital. Then there’s Joe Lonsdale, a fairly Trumpy Silicon Valley venture capitalist who along with Thiel founded the surveillance company Palantir Technologies. You could see Lonsdale most recently on the opinion pages of The Washington Post pitching the University of Austin – the new purported university emerging out of the ‘free speech’ Substack Cinematic Universe as a way to bring down’ America’s “rotten” “leadership culture.” This is the latest venture in the anti-PC, Bari Weiss, free speech and anti-cancel culture scene, a mix of understandable weariness with speech policing, victimization/grievance rackets, and general efforts to create safe spaces for opining on genetic basis of the intelligence of Black people.

Now let’s move to something or someone different – but not entirely unrelated. Jack Dorsey is the CEO of Twitter. A few weeks ago he went on his platform and posted an ominous warning about hyperinflation. “Hyperinflation is going to change everything. It’s happening.” He followed up a few moments later with: “It will happen in the US soon, and so the world.”

A lot of people are talking about inflation. It’s certainly possible, though highly unlikely, that we could be heading back to the kind of longterm inflation that afflicted the US from the late 1960s through the early 1980s. But “hyperinflation” isn’t going to happen. That’s very specific to Weimar Germany, episodically in Argentina and various small, usually third world countries who have cratering currencies for various reasons. It’s the kind of thing that, when it occurs in great powers, leads to civilization collapse. It’s what we used to hear from Gold Bugs and, let’s be honest, almost always right wing freaks of various sub-persuasions.

Funnily enough Dorsey’s oracular tweets were followed by numerous replies from far right accounts saying things like ‘If you finally realized the truth than you must regret censoring all the people who warned about how the Biden cabal was a trojan horse for socialism and the collapse of the United States!’ Yep. They got it. They made the connection.

And what’s the answer? Well, Dorsey has that covered. We need to be putting all our money into Bitcoin. Thiel is also heavy on bitcoin. And Elon Musk, the richest man in the world … well he’s no Peter Thiel precisely but he runs in a lot of the same Bitcoin, memefied, vaguely Trumpy territory. And last but not least remember that Thiel was the first outside investor in Facebook and a longtime member of the company’s board of directors, to whom Zuckerberg has reportedly grown closer as Facebook … sorry, Meta’s public reputation has swirled down the drain.

Dorsey is no Thiel. As best I can figure Dorsey’s neo-goldbug-ism is more a permutation of the one-track-mind libertarianism that has always been a key feature of the tech world. I bring him up here because when I saw those tweets, even though they weren’t terribly out of character for Dorsey, something clicked in my head: a lot of the guys who control what the Marxists used to call the ‘commanding heights’ of the early 21st century US economy … well, they’re kind of crazy and many have pretty wild and often very reactionary ideas.

My point for the moment is just to note that far from the assumptions of a decade or two ago – which were thin even then – Big Tech isn’t ‘liberal’, despite its still playing that part in the carnival world of the Trumpite nationalist GOP. It’s actually one of the biggest centers of neo-reactionary thought in the United States today. And most importantly: they’ve got the money. Their ideas don’t have to be right or sensible or even coherent. They’ve got the money. And money doesn’t talk it swears.

Marshall wrote this last week; interestingly (ominously?) Dorsey today quit his position as Twitter’s CEO.

It’s tempting to see Thiel et. al. as largely harmless cranks, because they definitely are cranks — but harmless seems like wishful thinking. As Marshall says, people like Thiel and Musk are unimaginably wealthy men who are using that wealth to help promote a whole bunch of very noxious political ideas, most of which are laser-focused on the notion that men like Thiel should be able to keep all their money, so they can spend it on building a death ray or a fascistic-libertarian paradise or what have you.

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