Thursday, October 21, 2010

Peter Thiel's Very Hot Topic!

I have recently read a very charged article concenring the nature of a $100,000 grant to drop out of school. But more details, of course.

The grant comes from the mind of a young philanthropist, the creater of pay pal, and we can consider his "grant" as an attempt to stimulate the economy and change society. The mans name of course is Peter Thiel.

The article which i have come across is essentially a critique of the entire plan. The author Jacob Weisberg argues that what we are seeing in this "Thiel grant" is the attempt of a narcissistic young billionaire to "clone him self", or perhaps justify his life style, by empowering young students to drop out of school and try to start a tech business of some type. That of course is the requirement of the grants, that you be young, in school, drop out and start a tech business. As applicants submit (this October applications start) to the fund, a selection of 20 people under 20 years old old will be selected next year and given money to drop out of school and start their ventures.

My intention in writing this post is to explore a bit more the arguments presented by Jacob and express my opinion that his perception of this instance might be skewed unnecessarily. In the article Jacob rails against Thiels character and brings up many points which would reflect a greedy and selfish libertarian perspective where women and welfare and democracy inhibit freedom. Indeed it is familiar to the event which is written of Jacob on wikipedia where he refused an offer to join the skull & bones fraternity and stated their exclusion of women as his reason. Much Weisberg's comment come off sounding like a form of political character assassinations rather then a thought provoking dialog. Perhaps he seeks to advertise the topic. I do not argue directly for Thiel's character as a general thing, nor his philosophies, rather i wish to address more underlying aspects of the whole scenario, things outside the limited perspective of a system frozen in time to be interpreted. By the way, i highly suggest that you read the article (posted above) before continuing.

From my perspective there is much more to be gathered and seen from the behavior of this particular liberal philanthropist then the elements of a great opinion rant on the behavioral qualities of dysfunctional libertarians. The reason that there is much more to gather is because outside of his character and his form of approach his affect will be felt in ways which we cannot translate directly form an analysis of his character, especially one which is bias. Indeed, we cannot even be certain that the literal presentations of what Peter intends accurately match up to what he intends, and thus to focus on the analysis of his character may be temporarily necessiary to satisfy the needs of some but in the end it is a distracting succession of notions. By this i mean that what he intends to do via his actions and actually what happens are not directly equivalent, and further what comes of his intention is not necessarily what he intends. What comes will of course be those endeavors which are granted monetary assistance by the Thiel Foundation. The story to come of those endeavors will shape how it is that the character of Peter is interpreted, and whats relevant to Jacob in this is that it will inform a piece of public perception of the liberal human. God forbid if more liberals get support.

But we must remember...the world at large is not so weak as to move in great measure on the dream of only one and stay fixed in that way. His personality and philosphy are generally flawed in some ways, as Jacob does point out, yet we should not underestimate the force of Thiels will and the commitment of his assets. What the man has is a dream, a dream which is shared among many people which does indeed contain aspects of good and focuses on addressing potentially emotional issues and challenges. Change, especially in relation to industry, technology and the lives of people, is inevitable and required for our sustained existence. To advocate from any point for an engagement with these issues is always beneficial and should be encouraged on the grounds of a mutual agreement of the opportunity and challenges that need to be faced outside of the "business as usual" mindset. However this dream is but a single element in our collective dreaming on this planet, and as that element it will be a catalyst for unpredictable results as the "sub group" of the planet's dream spreads and mingles with those previously unconcerned... Which is the affect of investment.

There are a few points of Jacobs point that need to be discussed in further depth from all sides... The first of which is the notion of the stifling of intellectual development. Our education system is flawed and the networking and learning opportunity which take place at "universities" are not the only ways to drive society. Perhaps one's career influences their perception of access and freedom, one's perception of how it is that can be done. Indeed i believe that it is relevant to mention that Jacob him self attended Yale university and we must remember that his undergraduate experience at that institution was remarkably different then the general university student... and like i was saying, the opportunities to collaborate and learn / network do not need to take place within universities only. All around the country, the world even, open access to technology is empowering the beginnings of the maker movement, and i have much faith that such a movement can produce a radically new interpretation of education and industry (see This does not mean that the institutions within the education system at large are all faulty systems, for much of research and development, much of basic engineering and political knowledge comes from the pursuit in academics. Universities are still hot beds for innovation, and it is wise for one such as Peter to attempt to capitalize on that hot bed. Yet this wisdom is not merely in terms of Peter's self interest, but of the interest of all of those which the investment shall impact. Don't forget that.
However, for anyone that has a mind of knowing when something "okay" (our education system) can become something much better it is easy to see ways in which our system flawed. Perhaps it is not merely the education systems but more so the culture in general, for the lack of motivation and confusion about ones purpose in the world seem to be the main drawbacks of the current system.

Also, there is the notion of Jacob's hostile perception of tech start ups. I am tempted to find if he has any suggestions as to how it is that investments should be made because it is dangerous to argue against investing in technology given the foreboding economic battles that are to be fought for 21st century technology industry leadership. Perhaps he feels that the physical economy of the US and our "services" will suffice to provide the foundations for a thriving economy without radical or questionable private investment outside of the status quo, perhaps he sees that there is already a solution in place to develop a growing sense of welfare. Perhaps he does not truly believe that young individuals have the flexibility to find new systems and produce useful results without years of schooling and academic regulation. A mature individual then is one which is indoctrinated with the culture of the university. I disagree with most notions about our current economy and sense of wealth, and feel that it is necessary for open access to technology and massive individual research and manufacturing potential to re-define the global politic and economy, as well as re define education. Pay-pal it self is a wonderful tool that acts as a model and exemplifed "proof of concept" method of direct monitary transfer between individuals... although there is the middle man of pay-pal it self. This model essentially allows monetary transfer to not require physical presence, and thus gives increased access for many to the global market exchange. Naturally we can see that this technology enables entities of all types to have an advantage. Regardless of what any one says there is issues with our economy that need to be address, issues which have to to with our understanding of value, investments, returns and exchange. For anyone who has studied chinas economic plans for the next few decades we will know that there is a strong emphasis in using excessive savings to invest in high-tech endeavors and infrastructure to continue increasing Chinese global recognition as both a manufacturer and also a product developer.

The third and last thing is the bais of Jacob that seems to indicate he thinks it's unhealthy to want to make a useful novel product (system) and for it to generate great returns. I think this type of attitude fosters a type of "us and them" that forges the opportunity for sharing our understanding of global events, or in other words creating a culture which empowers people with lots of wealth to invest in human creativity, welfare and achievement. Perhaps there are many that would obtain the grant who do not wish to make money purely for greed but rather seek to re-define our culture through technology. Maybe thats what Jacob is afraid of, i know a lot of people are afraid of this and claim that our current standard of welfare is in danger of collapsing... but we cannot maintain it if our economy falls apart. I do not know the man but in reading his article i found it quite sad that he seemed to rail so hard against Peter's character, using Peter's foundation as an almost arbitrary entrance into a complaining rant, when there is so much opportunity for a more important discussion that has to do with creativity, access and empowerment of individuals. But perhaps it is more necessary to continue to maintain the "values of the middle-class"... Whatever that means.

I do not think that some liberal infection will afflict all those who receive a grant. What we are seeing because of this movement of Peter is the act of him growing up, naturally he will go through various stages in his life where what he perceives as relevant will shift. You can be certain that it is better to have him investing in people then not though, wouldn't you agree?

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