Monday, November 01, 2021

Silicon Valley's Conservative Past And Nazi Dystopian Future

jacobin | Unlike Steve Jobs, who embraced the counterculture and sought to infuse the tech industry with some of its values, Thiel has long been hostile to the Left and all its cultural offshoots. Like Noyce before him, he believes that the Left’s influence slows technological progress and sets humanity back.

Thiel has been described as a libertarian because he funded initiatives like the Seasteading Institute for a time and has advocated for deregulation and slashing government spending on welfare and social programs. But he doesn’t just want a smaller state. He wants a particular kind of state, one reminiscent of the early days of Silicon Valley, when the tech industry and pro-capitalist governments collaborated to exercise global hegemony.

Chafkin writes that, especially after 9/11, Thiel was “no longer much of a libertarian, if he’d ever been one in the first place.” He’d originally positioned PayPal as an anti-establishment innovation that would give everyone their own Swiss bank account and “unilaterally strip governments of the power to control their own money supplies.” But he later complied with financial regulations and worked with the FBI to find money launderers — the same people whom he had described as personal Swiss bank account–holders. He benefited handsomely from the collaboration.

As he became a more prominent right-wing political figure by backing Trump, appearing at the 2019 National Conservatism conference, and funding so-called right-wing populist candidates like Josh Hawley and J.D. Vance, his companies also became more closely entwined with the US government. Thiel had invested in SpaceX and cofounded Palantir, two companies that rely heavily on lucrative public contracts, and even went so far as to sue the US government to gain access to them. Palantir, in particular, is a data-mining company that works with both major corporations and the US military and intelligence community.

In 2019, Thiel took to the pages of the New York Times to argue for tech companies to work more closely with the US military. He criticized decades of US policy toward China and called out Google for opening an AI lab in China as it canceled an AI contract with the Pentagon — effectively accusing it of helping the enemy. In seeking to stoke a Cold War nationalism centered around opposition to China, Chafkin explains, Thiel wants “to bring the military-industrial complex back to Silicon Valley, with his own companies at its very center.”

And he’s not the only tech executive who feels this way — just the first to come out and say it, paving the way for the others. In February 2020 Eric Schmidt, whom Thiel once called “Google’s minister of propaganda,” wrote his own Times op-ed calling for the United States to take China’s technological threat more seriously. “For the American model to win,” he wrote, “the American government must lead.” A few months later, Zuckerberg positioned Facebook in opposition to China in front of US lawmakers, while other companies, including Amazon and Microsoft, have continued to fight for major contracts with the US military.

Regardless of whether they identify as liberal or conservative, the tech industry’s leaders are embracing the military-industrial complex. Thiel is not an outlier; he’s just a few paces ahead.

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