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Thiel and the Tycoons

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There was somebody who had to be a railroad baron, in an antique suit, his watchchain stretched across his vest. He had the air of one who had seen better days. His forehead twitched. There were the great gray gods of the airplanes, heirs to all the dreams of heavier-than-air travel. There were car gods there: a powerful, serious-faced contingent, with blood on their black gloves and on their chrome teeth: recipients of human sacrifice on a scale undreamed-of since the Aztecs.  Neil Gaiman, American Gods

There are certainly ways in which Peter Thiel is a weird motherfucker (and deepest condolences to the family of Jeff Thomas, who had the misfortune of drifting into Thiel’s orbit and couldn’t find his way out). There are more important ways, however, in which he is a bog standard reactionary industrial tycoon crank, a species which is in some sense global but that also holds a peculiar central space in American social and political history. Holding that the blood of young men will keep him supple and vibrant is an awfully strange thing for a 21st century American to believe, but it’s not out of place with the eccentricities of Carnegie or Rockefeller or Kellogg or Ford or Hearst or Hughes or a dozen other bizarre tycoons in American history. Credit Curtis Yarvin with understanding the marketplace for his astonishingly cranky ideas about political order; folks like Thiel are bound to be attracted to them BECAUSE they are so bizarrely crankish that they could not reasonably be held by a “normal” person. The accumulation of titanic fortunes built around social and technological innovations invariably requires a combination of luck, talent, and privilege, but the accumulators themselves invariably assume that a) only talent is of any importance, and b) that the talent in fungible and can be applied to any area of social and political life.

While there certainly is some variance in how billionaires view political life (Carnegie was not Rockefeller and Thiel is not Gates) believing that there are to be rules of morality that should hold to thee but not me, believing that women are sub-human creatures that deserve no space within the political system, believing that the political system ought to be the plaything of yourself and people like you, and especially, believing that with great wealth comes great insight into the social and political condition… these things are not novel within the tycoon class. Also not novel is the rage that the Titans feel when the small and weak dare to question the immensity of their importance:

Thiel did not respond to texts or phone calls requesting comment. Most of the people The Intercept spoke to during this reporting have requested anonymity, citing Thiel’s relentless and successful effort to obliterate Gawker in retribution for outing him in the 2000s.

See also Elon, of course, a man so terribly insecure and with such a limited understanding of the American political system that he thought he could Fix Everything by overspending on a micro-blogging company.

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