With modern technology, a tiny number of people are capable of inflicting unprecedented levels of damage and death with the push of a single button. They're comfortable with the uncomfortable. Thiel credits Girard with inspiring him to switch careers. Or as Christ says: “Imitate me as I imitate the father.”. As Thiel said: “Facebook first spread by word of mouth, and it’s about word of mouth, so it’s doubly Mimetic. I wasn’t the only one. They’re cultural. If too many firms enter the market, the entire industry will suffer losses. Writing two years before his death in 1824, Thomas Jefferson marveled at all the progress he had witnessed in his life: “And where this progress. If the answer is no, he won’t. None of these desires were my own. Since everybody copies, we can improve society by encouraging people to copy the right people. They were responsible for one job, one metric, and one part of the business. Likewise, ancient cultures saw time like an endless wheel. Mimesis is the Greek word for imitation. The country is not as innovative as it once was. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:13). As he proclaimed, “you are not a lottery ticket… you can either dispassionately accept the universe for what it is, or put your dent in it, but not both.”. By treating my future self with the same respect as my current self, I’m better able to ignore the nagging impulses of the moment and work towards a better future for myself and humanity. The Resurrection is a symbol that someday, all wrongs will be made right. Monopoly firms are big fish in a small pond. Consider Peter Thiel, who earned a B.A. That way, you can ignore superficial status competitions and think beyond the day-to-day stress of writing a book. Instead of focusing on meaningless scandals, endless political dramas, or the limitless accumulation of wealth, we should focus on the impending catastrophe at the end of the road. Speaking about the faculty relationships at Harvard, Henry Kissinger once said: “The battles were so ferocious because the stakes were so small.” By obsessing over their competitors, the faculty lost sight over the big picture and fought over the small scraps of superficial status games. At the end of his book, St. Augustine refers to the seven stages of early history. Inspired by the 10th commandment, Thiel encourages listeners to avoid competition. His theory builds upon the kinds of books and people that modern people tend to ignore: The Bible, classic fiction writers such as Marcel Proust, and playwrights like Shakespeare. We’ll learn why the story is an archetype for human relationships, even in the Western world where people stiff-arm religion like it’s the Heisman trophy. To me, they’re like a brick: heavy enough to make me careful, but light enough to add other ones to my mental backpack. To Thiel, The Book of Revelation is more than a metaphor. Ultimately, the Reber Plan didn’t work. He doesn’t see the world as a mere distribution of luck-based outcomes. Instead of looking to the people around you for answers, find models that you cannot compete with. According to Thiel, monopoly is the end state of every successful business. I wrote the piece below almost five years ago, after a New Yorker article on Peter Thiel had appeare d, which referenced the writings and philosophy of Leo Strauss.Though Strauss had passed well before my time at University of Chicago, I studied with a few of his students and admirers, including Allan Bloom, Nathan Tarcov and Clifford Orwin. The probability of a civilization-ending apocalypse is increasing. Let the flame of Definite Optimism burn away the Mimetic virus. When those differences collapse, the infectious spread of violence accelerates. By September 2009, the total assets under management had fallen from a peak of $7.8 billion to a mere $850 million, most of which was Thiel’s personal capital. But a team that doesn’t believe they can win is hopeless. Pair that with the blank slate theory that anybody can do whatever they want, and you have a recipe for runaway Girardian conflict. When faced with an ambiguous toy, babies altered their behavior based on adults’ emotional reactions. Like two children who fight for a toy, the more you fight somebody, the more you resemble your enemy. They should be somebody who defied the status quo and took an independent path. Then, the people. It demands responsibility. The death of Jesus, like a scapegoat ritual, is a collective and community murder. We’ll study religion through the lens of Peter Thiel. Young Americans are trapped by student loans, crippled by path dependence, and constrained by runaway housing costs. I’m part of the bargain-hungry tribe too. He believed that strong businesses aim to be unique, not the best. In contrast, business travelers don’t have as much flexibility. Wait, Wasn't Peter Thiel a Libertarian? As a baby, he moved with his family to the United … During his time at Stanford, he created the newspaper The Stanford Review where he operated as the Editor-in-Chief until his graduation in 1989.. We’ll cover the shift from cyclical time to linear time, which was spurred by technological development and human progress. People are afraid to dream big or stand out. Three simple statements will lead us towards our ultimate answer about the importance of religion: The future will be different from the present. If not, maybe it’s too normal.”. In my experience, “learning a lot” is code for “boring, but I’m putting up with it.”. Increased supply will drive prices down, which will decrease total industry profits. Mimetic Theory shines brightest in trivial everyday moments, such as watching children play with toys. Sacrificial ritual is always violent. With that said, I don’t endorse the Japanese perspective in all its forms. The last commandment says you shouldn’t covet your neighbor’s goods. Humans need to be ruled, and man must glorify its king. Rene Girard was a French historian and literary critic. Since the entire company was aligned around the mission, the employees were motivated and paddling the boat in the same inspiring direction. The Apollo 8 mission required superhuman precision, equivalent in scale to throwing a dart at a peach from a distance of 28 feet, and grazing the top of the fuzz without touching the fruit’s skin. All scapegoats are both insiders and outsiders. Babies’ interest in a particular toy has less to do with the toy itself and more to do with the fact that the other babies desire the toy. As a contrast to the hyper-competitive airline business, consider Google. Roosevelt spoke to 132 million Americans. To understand Thiel’s ideas, we need to begin with the person who influenced Peter Thiel more than any other writer: Rene Girard. Better yet, the joy and glory of a world after redemption will be greater because humans have suffered to reach it. Buffett’s firm has poured millions of dollars into renewable energy. When I speak with friends who do business there, they complain about the rigid hierarchies and the inability to take risks. They believed that every so often, the universe would wind down and burn up, and after this re-birth, history would begin again. Office hours were an afterthought. To no fault of their own, they’re sleepwalking through life as if their best years are already behind them. No American, let alone any ordinary human being, has stepped foot on the moon since 1972. After Americans stepped foot on the moon, the airline’s customer center was inundated with phone calls from around the country. We can avoid the kinds of competition that lead to violence. My friends’ desires moved in perfect synchronicity. His firm also invested in Airbnb, Stripe, and Postmates. Every venture capitalist I meet says there’s too much money and not enough good ideas. But companies who have a monopoly can set their own prices since they offer an in-demand product that cannot be replicated. We analogize business to war. Live like you’ll be alive forever. “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.” — Proverbs 25:2, Thiel opposes the idea that luck is all-powerful. It reeked like Orwellian doublespeak. Indeed, the unique history of the West proves the exception to the rule that most human beings through the millennia have existed in a naturally brutal, unchanging, and impoverished state. Philosophy degrees have been incredibly useful in Silicon Valley leading to both riches and ideas that have changed the world. In an essay called The Trouble with Optionality, Harvard professor Mihir Desai worries that the language of finance has polluted life. The present cannot be divorced from the future. The more talented and differentiated performers there are, the more the arts flourish. Like Pavlov’s rats, they’ve responded with authoritarian obedience. For example, the Hindu Vedas teach that the world spins along an endless cycle: creation, rise, decline, destruction, and rebirth. To advertise its affordable prices, the engine on the right wing says “Home of the Bare Fare.” Like the Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 to its left, the rise of low-cost airline carriers reflects the price sensitivity of flyers. He says things like “One version of this is…” or “You could say that…” He has an uncanny ability to consider cultural trends and investment trades from a diversity of perspectives. Scientists would ask proxy questions for determining a culture’s time horizon, and use it to evaluate its impact on productivity growth. Thiel fears that due to technologies like nuclear weapons, humans are already capable of destroying the world. Our spirits rise when hopes are high. They’re so obvious that nobody thinks about them. He worked as an associate for Sullivan & Cromwell in New York City, where the hours were long and the competition was cutthroat. Back when I needed a car seat to ride in a vehicle, I asked for Thomas the Tank Engine train sets. Americans would work four days per week and seven hours per day. At once, they must be insider enough to be part of the community, but outsider enough to blame for the community’s problems. His verbal tendencies double as a mirror into his mind. Through a belief in Redemption, Christians turned their minds to the supernatural and adopted a belief in an eternal heaven. Better yet, you can copy more than their writing. “Thou shalt not covet your neighbor’s goods.” — 10th Commandment. This Shinto ritual does more than keep the structure intact. Place the eternal before the perishable. Engineers planned to construct a 32-lane highway and scatter high-rise buildings throughout the reconstructed city. With the rise of dystopian films, Hollywood creates and reflects these dark predictions about the future. Mimetic conflict emerges when two people desire the same, scarce resource. When you compete to be the best, you imitate. As promised, here’s where Girard’s observations of the past can shape our understanding of the present. No matter the obstacles, certainty about the future gives you the confidence to act in the present. Instead, my smartest friends were pushed towards a handful of fields: law, management consulting, and investment banking. Perfect competition is the default state in Economics 101. Social events revolve around binge drinking and conversations so superficial a robot could automate them. Here’s how Thiel would respond to my imitative instincts: Be careful who you copy. Successful strategies attract imitators, so the best businesses are difficult to copy. To reach the moon, America’s pioneers traveled across 240,000 miles, about fifty-eight times the distance Columbus sailed when he discovered the Western world. For the first three years, during the initial fundraising process, investors turned their cheeks. Whether the future is better or worse will depend on our actions. God is an all-encompassing term for things we don’t understand. To be sure, he doesn’t only invest in companies with little competition like Palantir and DeepMind. Thiel’s idea of Definite Optimism is Christian theology cloaked in secular language. First, he paused for time. Like Girard, he worries that the world is becoming more Mimetic. When you compete to be unique, you innovate. Thiel was born in Frankfurt. Rather than focusing their attention on the end goal of developing a legal expertise, transforming the Constitution, or rescuing the powerless from tyrannical injustice, they elbowed their peers so they could score higher than their classmates on standardized tests. Otherwise, our living standards will not improve, and may get worse. In Zero to One, Peter Thiel describes four ways of thinking about the future: definite optimism, indefinite optimism, definite pessimism, and indefinite pessimism. Hopefully, some of it is interesting. You have one life. Since all the airlines chase the same price sensitive customers, they compete for every sale. They require scientists, mathematicians, engineers, craftsmen, and artists. “The big secret is that there are many secrets left to uncover. Strauss did not believe in transparency. Similar people are most prone to Mimetic envy because we tend to compete for status with the people who are closest to us. And yet, in the face of rejection, the fund’s Christian founder maintained faith in the face of struggle. People who work with Thiel are told to look for heterodox ideas and people with clear visions of the future. Dams would drain water from north to south and convert the Bay from saltwater to freshwater. Instead of copying the Japanese commitment to long-term thinking, we should learn from it and use Christian-theology to build upon it. Informed by its linear conception of time and the Christian image of heaven, Thiel applauds the grand visions of yesterday’s leaders. It’s as if the age-based fraternity hierarchy never left his mind. Creating explicit images of my future has made me healthier, happier, and much more productive. When humans engage in a Mimetic crisis, the violence can only be fixed by murdering the scapegoat. It will either be much worse or much better. We all form our identity by looking towards others. Children play. We copy other people spontaneously, automatically, and unconsciously. Shakespeare wasn’t the only writer to identify the vicious Mimetic impulse. Guided by the Cain and Abel story, remember the danger of imitating the wrong person. Lesson No. That way, when the Day of Judgement comes, we’ll lean towards the side of the good. The Nazis had 7 million soldiers, but America had less than 200,000. But after a recent change of heart, I’m on a quest to develop my own conclusions about religion. Fast forward five decades and only 12 men have ever walked on the moon. He writes: “The entire human order could unravel in a relentless escalation of violence — famine, disease, war, and death. ¹ In addition to St. Augustine, writers such as Adam Smith, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin supported Christian ideals of progress. The second study would measure the relationship between urban life and farm life. Even if imitation is inevitable, we can reduce the negative effects of it. Instead, we’ll explore Christianity and the history of time. Listen carefully and you’ll see how often he hides answers inside of questions. Everybody imitates. In a city called Ise, people have been rebuilding the grand Jingu shrine with wood and thatch since the 7th century. The interconnected nature of the world makes nightmare scenarios—pandemics, global economic collapse, climate-change disaster, cyberattacks, terrorism—all seem like genuine possibilities, even probabilities… Today hope has narrowed to the vanishing point of the self alone. I was obsessed. We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like. I suspect that people in cities are more likely to see time as linear, while people who grow up in nature see its cyclical traits, such as the rise of the sun, the seasonal thunderstorms, and the changing of the seasons. Progress, though, is not guaranteed. Pseudonymous Twitter accounts are the new Straussian philosophers, but with one important twist. For the opposite perspective, consider the Japanese. That’s why we need to believe that our lives are marching towards an end that’s worth striving for. Greatness is like chess. Society will push you towards competition, but you shouldn’t compete with your peers or depend on them for guidance. 80 years later, The Freedom Tower took more than 12 years to build. But over time, it leads to envy, violence, and the apocalypse. I suspect Thiel holds this philosophy. Transportation stopped improving. The more optionality, the better. In Peter Thiel’s view, this doesn’t go far enough. Then, I started seeing his ideas everywhere. I’m writing during a five-hour layover on my way from New York to Los Angeles. Against this future, it is far better to save one’s immortal soul and accumulate treasures in heaven, in the eternal City of God, than it is to amass a fleeting fortune in the transient and passing City of Man.”. 2. I don’t feel a compelling need to convince other people of that.”. “Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor. There is a predetermined plan for what the future will look like. Make no mistake. Once you watch these ideas impact your family, your friends, and your coworkers, you will have the same revelation Peter Thiel had as a student in Girard’s class at Stanford. At the time, Americans were producing fewer than 1,000 planes per year. Between 1968 and 1971, Pan Am accepted 93,005 reservations for planned commercial flights to the moon. One friend doesn’t want to have kids because “the entire state of California is going to be underwater by 2050.” Or, in the words of a comedian on Twitter: “The fun part about living right now is we get to see how it ends.”. In his final lecture, Keller quoted Robert Nisbet, the author of The History of the Idea of Progress. https://www.businessinsider.com/successful-philosophy-majors-2014-1 NASA’s star spangled splendor transformed consciousness. Girard saw sacrifice and the scapegoat mechanism as the reason for Christianity and the center of human culture. Cover Photo: JD Lasica | CC 2.0 License via Flickr. They’re raised in institutional environments where conformity is praised and originality is punished. His words echo those of another friend, who said: “I’m just trying to get through the next 25 years as fast as possible.”. I’m learning a lot.”, Immediately, I smirked and questioned his answer. You won’t figure out what to do by looking at your peers, so don’t copy the people around you. Others engaged in small acts of sabotage against their coworkers. Like Girard, Thiel, believes that Western political philosophy cannot cope with global violence. We must work for it. Heuristic: do your friends at school think your path is a bit strange? As I type these words, I’m sitting in the United Airlines lounge at Denver International Airport. Throughout my childhood, I remember coming home to my parents to ask for new toys. If you want to create and capture lasting economic value, don’t compete. Thiel says a bad plan is better than no plan at all. Under the secular mindset, there is no transcendent future after death. Instead of focusing on five things, or three things, the magic number is one. This intuition is supported by data. “The twentieth century was great and terrible, and the twenty-first century promises to be far greater and more terrible.” — Peter Thiel. Choose your enemies well. In it, he tried to find common ground between Girard’s Mimetic theory and the work of two right-wing political philosophers: Leo Strauss and Carl Schmitt. We increasingly believe that progress is inevitable. Writing guide, which will give you my 4-step process for crafting high-quality writing — even when you’re totally slammed. Where previous myths were told from the perspective of the community, the Christian story is told from the perspective of the victim. This essay is an introduction to his ideas, but it’s not just about Thiel. Let’s wrap my morning in economic language. Mimetic Theory rests on the assumption that all our cultural behaviors, beginning with the acquisition of language by children are imitative. Definite Optimism is withering. Law school was worse. Human culture began with a murder. His “invisible hand” doesn’t just speak to the stability of the economic system, but also to the natural progress of wealth, labor, skill, rent, and profits. The importance of belief and momentum is evident to any shouting fan in any arena across the country. There was almost a cult-like element where you have these people who were followers of Girard and it was a sense that we had figured out the truth about the world in a way that nobody else did.”. He told Carlson: ‘I think the US is still better at innovation and starting things, but it certainly can be copied, and replicated. What does Peter Thiel think? But this is the wrong way to think about competition. Peter Andreas Thiel (teel; born October 11, 1967) is an American entrepreneur. Peter Thiel. Peter Thiel is one of the most successful technology investors. We lack courage, not genius. As the American people watched their comrades explore the distant skies and travel to the moon, they thought they’d witnessed the opening of a new frontier. Telling them to only follow Jesus’ teachings wouldn’t be productive. Having no plan is chaotic. Thiel proclaims that 40 percent of railroads involve the transport of coal, so Buffett’s investment will do especially well if the travel and energy consumption patterns of the 21st century look like the past. As a result, even very big businesses can be unprofitable. The final book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation, even gives a name and a place: The Battle of Armageddon in the Middle East is the great conflagration that would end the world. Be skeptical of convention, and don’t let it double as a shortcut to the truth. Today, these bold visions would be ignored and dismissed as lunacy. Rivals who pursue the “one best way” to compete will converge on a collision course, where everybody listens to the same advice and pursues the same strategies, leading to zero-sum outcomes where total industry profits fall towards nothing. Then they resort to going for the lowest hanging fruit or the easiest to achieve. Thomas Hobbes wrote that “if any two men desire the same thing, which nevertheless they cannot both enjoy, they become enemies; and in the way to their End… endeavor to destroy, or subdue one another.“. As part of the journey, I also swallowed a five-hour layover in Denver so I could pay with frequent flyer points. Depending on who you ask, it seemed like humanity was guided by the invisible hand or an all-powerful God. There are still many large white spaces on the map of human knowledge. Write of Passage teaches a step-by-step method for publishing quality content. Jesus speaks of his return to earth in Matthew 19:28. Thiel asks: “Is this a business that I have enough confidence in that I would consider joining it myself?” If yes, he’ll consider an investment. They have freedom to pursue bizarre ideas and people who don’t fit the standard mold. Barbarism has, in the meantime, been receding before the steady step of amelioration, and will in time, I trust, disappear from the earth.”, Likewise, in a letter to a friend, Benjamin Franklin wrote: “It is impossible to imagine the height to which may be carried, in a thousand years, the power of Man over Matter.”. Modern presidents no longer inspire Americans with positive visions of the future. Initially, Cain admires Abel. In an unexpected twist, the physics stagnated. As Julia’s story demonstrates, academic rivalries are vicious because they focus on hierarchies over knowledge. The most talented people follow the same narrow tracks. Peter Thiel. Guided by this belief in the possibility of progress, Christians follow a high-resolution painting of a perfect future. To offer solutions, Thiel turns to the Christian value of hope. He looks at how the painting is framed. It shook the entire world. Here, he counters the secular and Eastern philosophy. “For Girard, this combination of mimesis and the unraveling of archaic culture implies that the modern world contains a powerfully apocalyptic dimension.”. In the sermon, Keller argued that humans are future-oriented beings. Build a differentiated skillset. But Christianity offers a different perspective: work for the fruits of eternity instead of chasing the fleeting pleasures of the day. Like all scapegoat victims, Jesus is killed despite his innocence. On the inside, everybody wanted to get out.”. To build the plant, builders moved 650,000 cubic yards of dirt and laid 58 miles of grain tile underground. He has a heterodox view of Christianity. Others will say I’ve gone too deep. Then, we’ll return to the tenets of the Christian story. In theory, these safety nets give them freedom. Today, we’ve narrowed the definition of technology to Angry Birds and goofy SnapChat filters. Thiel sees the world at a strange angle. Adam Grant does a masterful job showing that is not the case; we are lucky to have him as a guide.” Sheryl Sandberg: “Originals is one of the most important and captivating books I have ever read, full of surprising and powerful ideas. Ford Liberator bombers took flight in the spring of 1942, ahead of schedule. The Christian story is the ultimate Girardian ritual because Jesus is a classic scapegoat, but with an all-important twist. “Enter through the narrow gate. In one essay, Thiel described human brains as “gigantic imitation machines.”. But the idea of progress did not crystallize until St. Augustine. They are dangerous diversions that will change you.”. In his book, The Secret of Our Success, he shows that humans are cultural learners. It implies that if you want to win, you should try to be the best. Rather than taking risks or working on important projects, students acquire options. When I first read about Mimetic Theory, I was skeptical. Student loans keep him stuck on the institutional treadmill. The Reber Plan is my favorite example of Definite Optimism. Indefinite Optimism: The future will be better and we don’t know how. If you want to stretch your imagination, you can live where they lived and read what they read. Thiel’s Christianity-inspired worldview lines up with Michael Porter’s philosophy of business strategy. It’s like a search for keys. After the 2008 financial crisis, when the new General Motors went public in 2010, CEO Dan Akerson announced that his company was free of legacy costs and ready to compete again. The rate of technological progress is slowing. You just have to remember that contrarians are usually wrong.”. When they do, they’re concealed in unpopular characters, such as devils, beggars, and buffoons. It has all the advantages of public communication without having its greatest disadvantage—capital punishment for the author… Their literature is addressed, not to all readers, but to trustworthy and intelligent readers only.”. Look for secrets instead of luck. He studied philosophy and law at Stanford University. Girard said “sacrificial systems contain violence.” His message has two meanings. Imitation is not the childish, low-level form of behavior that many people think it is. Christoper Kurz, an economist at the Federal Reserve has shown that millennial households had an average net worth of about $92,000 in 2016, nearly 40% less than Gen X households in 2001, adjusted for inflation, and about 20% less than baby boomer households in 1989. In an essay called The Optimistic Thought Experiment, Thiel advises us to build the modern equivalent of Noah’s ark, so we can survive the floods of Girardian evil. Mimetic desire is innate, not learned. 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