Peter Thiel is Right About Atoms
To save the West, we must rethink what an atom is. That’s my vision. So you can understand my disaffection when yet another catty, confused dallier attempted to capture venture capitalist Peter Thiel’s worldview for the dying establishment media, this time in The Atlantic story: “Peter Thiel is Taking a Break from Democracy.” The article by Barton Gellman attempts to explain Thiel’s recent renunciation of political donations as a result of being burned out by the lack of return politicians provide his vision to move America towards growth, particularly in, as Thiel calls it, the world of atoms. The article misses the bigger point Thiel makes about the dangers of stagnation in favor of catering to the Atlantic audience’s mirror-induced paranoias about Trump, fascism, and strange libertarian wealth lurking in the shadows to impose its will on the world. Make no mistake, most of the political world misunderstands Thiel’s critique of the West’s lack of innovation. This disinterest in the topic of atoms reveals how shallow politics is at solving any serious problems.
To talk about the atom we must tiptoe with reverence around its cultural debut and simultaneous retirement, the Manhattan Project. The atom bomb project is often touted by Thiel and acolytes, alongside the Moon landing, as one of the last times government did anything innovative in the world of atoms. Thiel’s narrative is that victory in WWII further ennobled America’s technological frontier spirit. Like 1920s cinema, post-WWII era science fiction saw robots and flying cars just around the corner. Then, Thiel laments, beginning some time in the 70s, America started to grow cynical about science and technology and we rested on our laurels to the detriment of wages and real growth.
As a student of Mimetic theory, I agree with the late Stanford anthropologist Rene Girard (who Thiel famously studied under) when he said, “We didn’t stop burning witches because of the scientific method. We discovered the scientific method because we stopped burning witches.” Girard believed that Christianity, with its demystification of nature and rejection of ritual sacrifice, was the driving force behind the West’s great scientific pursuits. Christianity changed the perception of society slowly away from mythology where zero-sum rites of controlled violence kept humanity suspended in an eternal cycle of stasis towards a world in which a future different and better than the past was possible through human creativity and risk-taking. All of this, in imitation of Christ, was to be motivated by love and service towards our fellow human being, made in the ima
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