In March 2022, Arizona Senate candidate Blake Masters was questioned to name an ideological influence. Rather than respond to Ayn Rand or French philosopher René Girard (a favorite of Masters benefactor, tech billionaire Peter Thiel), Masters quoted Ted Kaczynski.
Yeah, that would be the same guy who murdered strangers through the mail as the so-called “Unabomber.”
His answer surprised many. Why would a tech venture capitalist who co-authored a book on building the future quote a Luddite terrorist? It was, however, a perfectly heterodox paradox for a member of the Thielverse.
Much like his boss, Masters aligned himself with a seemingly antithetical figure in his quest for political power. Kaczynski was a reactionary – a trait apparently more important to the Masters than attitudes towards technology. While puzzling, Masters’ (along with other Thiel surrogates) endorsement and adoption of his rhetoric oddly makes sense.
Ted Kaczynski was not a hippie who went bankrupt, as some assume, and his manifesto was not an extremist take on 1960s Whole Earth environmentalism. Anyone who bothered to read would- what the opening pages of his manifesto will know is that Kaczynski was a fanatical culture warrior and a reactionary conservative, both socially and technologically.
While mainstream conservatives worried about feminism and multiculturalism, seeing them as leftist ideological constructs (as Thiel argued in the 1995 book he co-wrote The myth of diversity), Kaczynski focused more on technological advancement as the mother of these movements. For him, political correctness was an aberration of modern life, the consequence of not independently meeting our basic human needs. He postulated that technology inevitably becomes a tool for authoritarian communist central planners, and therefore technology and freedom were mutually exclusive.
Whether it’s the plague of political correctness, the threat of “woke” Big Tech, or the rise of the cutting-edge Chinese Communist Party, you can probably see why parts of Kaczynski’s manifesto resonated in the Thielverse. On the other hand, Kaczynski’s fundamental thesis on the macro is directly in conflict with that of Thiel, who in his infamous 2009 Unbound cato writing on seasteading (which imagines a libertarian utopian society without government on boats and man-made islands) said “we are in a deadly race between politics and technology” and that our fate may “depend on the effort of just one individual who builds and propagates the machine of freedom.
This diametrically opposed thesis, which posits more broadly that technological stagnation leads to societal conflict, is something that Thiel continues to expound, most recently reproaching him for the “political madness” of our time.
This begs the question: why do Thiel’s political surrogates seem to operate on a platform of neo-Luddite populism? They contribute to political madness, rather than selling solutions to the stagnation that caused it.
Besides his explicit endorsement of Ted Kaczynski, Masters also recently lamented automatic checkouts, demanding to “bring the humans back” and ignoring increase demand and employment in the preparation of the food he created. The Masters also opposed COVID-19 vaccine mandates — which are not necessarily anti-vaccine when argued from a libertarian perspective — but went further, calling them “evil”. He spoke out against abortion, a medical procedure he supported. It seemed blame a school that was pulling on antidepressants. He called on search engine rankings on Tucker Carlson (who also positively cited the Unabomber), seeming to forget the indicate search engines are ranked results.
“By avoiding optimism and embracing neo-Luddite narratives, Thiel and his cronies are missing a great political opportunity to move the Republican political narrative in a new direction.”
Masters is no exception in his neo-Luddite rhetoric. JD Vance—another Thiel surrogate Senate candidate in Ohio—wants to ban pornography to “save” families. Texas Senator Ted Cruz—a longtime patron of Thiel—blame mass shootings over modern innovations like video games and prescription drugs. Cruz in the past has also offensive encryption, an essential technology for protecting individuals against surveillance, and which has long been attacked by well-meaning technophobes. Missouri Senator Josh Hawley—yet another candidate in Thiel’s orbit– called for Chinese Communist Party-style time limits on social media – a bizarre level of government overreach –while warning of CCP influence on TikTok.
The idea that technology is both a tool of communist control and the root of societal ills is Kaczynski-esque, and a common theme among Thiel’s political surrogates. That Masters quotes him directly suggests that these similarities could be more than coincidence. Even Thiel himself floated similar ideas, including in 2018 when he said“AI (artificial intelligence) is communist. Crypto is libertarian. Then in 2021, Thiel wondered if maybe Bitcoin can also be a communist tool.
The rhetoric of Thiel’s political proteges — whether calculating kayfabe, heartfelt, or a bit of both — is an iteration of a political movement. It’s Trumpism with a hint of Kaczynski, a 1 year political innovations. Ironically, this is the kind of disappointing iterative change that Masters and Thiel warn against in their book. Zero to One: notes on startups or how to build the future.
The populist right sees it as “American carnage” rather than “American innovation”. And that’s part of the reason why neo-Luddism — rather than technological progressivism — has been the political rhetoric of choice in the Thielverse. It’s almost certainly rooted in Thiel’s pessimism about optimism. Thiel told Mitt Romney in 2016: “I think the most pessimistic candidate is going to win, because if you’re too optimistic, it suggests you’re out of touch.”
He was right then, as a political prognosticator, but that doesn’t mean he’s right now.
By avoiding optimism and embracing neo-Luddite narratives, Thiel and his cronies are missing a great political opportunity to move the Republican political narrative in a new direction. They could, if they wanted to, work to end the “political madness” and zero-sum battles spawned by memetic conflict, brought about by technological stagnation. They forget that just like the next Mark Zuckerberg will not build a social network (to paraphrase Zero to One) the next Donald Trump will not build a wall. The next Republican brand will build something new, fresh and strange. Instead, they do…this.
Masters and Vance, in particular, had painfully obvious opportunities to forge an alternative path to political appeal, framed through the prism of technological progress. But only on questions of cryptocurrencies and nuclear energy has made they or they take this approach. On the latter, they took charge of the undeniable failure of the progressive environmental movement, whose anti-nuclear Luddism has led directly to the burning of more fossil fuels, and is now contributing to intensifying climate change.
The college problem was another obvious opportunity, one with which Masters has experience stemming from his time leading the Thiel Fellowship (a philanthropic effort that challenged the value of college by paying children to they give up and become entrepreneurs). The Masters, in particular, could have devoted political energy to pointing out that higher education in America is a system the Democrats want to fully subsidize, but it’s also the kind of fake meritocracy the left hates, perpetuating the kind of system discrimination they describe.
Screening of employers for a diploma excludes almost 80% of Latinos, almost 70% of African Americans and 70% of rural Americans (the very demographic JD Vance must win a seat in the Senate.)
The opportunity to offer something less stale than “BUILD A WALL!” (and less divisive), while appealing to minority voters, was ignored. Instead of tackling the hiring credential oligopoly and providing new tech-based pathways to employment that don’t favor Democrats, Masters instead blame Blacks for Gun Violence, and with Vance promoted the racist “great replacement theory”. The two continue to tout Trump’s border wall as a solution to opportunity in a world where jobs and location are becoming increasingly disconnected.
Foreign policy saw a similar waste of opportunity, but delivered substantial benefits. Rather than saying “Who cares about Ukrainians”, JD Vance could have hailed a new era of war, where cheap drones beat expensive tanks – and where leading and defending the free world does not inevitably mean a bloated deficit and a increase in the US military overseas. presence.
Instead of blaming gun violence on antidepressants, they could have blamed mental health and the barriers the FDA erected to drug access. This would have doubled as a means of protect access to abortion popular but outwardly unspoken issue among Republican women – without having to get into politically divisive grounds.
If Peter Thiel’s political influence operation were more technologically progressive, he might be pressuring Florida Governor Ron DeSantis not to remove Disney’s jurisdiction over the Florida District. improvement of Reedy Creek, the location of Disney’s dormant project for a futuristic city: EPCOT. It would be the kind of corporate sovereignty and futuristic industrialism that Thiel said was only possible on platforms built in international waters in his Unbound cato writing.
For every problem related to scarcity, technological progressivism offers a third way: a purple pill as an alternative to the usual red and blue. Something less divisive, more constructive and more progressive.
It won’t be clear until November whether Thiel’s pessimism about optimism (and appeasement of Luddite populism) will succeed or, rather, yield mediocre results and cost him the political influence he desires. Whether or not it does may hinge on Democrats — and some Republicans — seizing the political opportunity of an optimistic progressive tech platform.