Peter Thiel’s evil, but he’s not an “evil genius”

How to criticize self-mythologizing villains.

Cory Doctorow


Peter Thiel: “I’d rather be seen as evil than incompetent.” It’s the far-right billionaire’s most telling phrase. Thiel wants us to think he’s an evil genius, because he wants us to think he’s a genius. So much of Thiel’s activity is devoted to self-mythologizing, like when he made us all think he was infusing the blood of teenagers in a bid to become immortal:

But as Ben Burgis writes for Jacobin, Thiel isn’t an evil genius, “he’s just a rich guy”:

Burgis cites Max Chafkin’s 2021 Thiel biography, The Contrarian, which shines a glaring light on the distance between Thiel’s stated commitment to high-minded ideals of “liberty” and his self-serving defense of mass surveillance and human rights abuses:

If you think Thiel is an evil genius, then maybe these contradictions are the result of your puny brain lacking the subtlety to understand how, on a higher plane of reasoning, they can be resolved. If you understand that Theil is an ordinary mediocrity, no better than you or me, sickened by pathological greed, then there’s a much simpler explanation: it’s all bullshit, and the only thing Thiel really cares about is becoming richer and more powerful.

That explanation goes a long way to explain why a “libertarian” would defend Apartheid, express regret that women are allowed to vote, state that “freedom and democracy” are incompatible, and secretly fund a lawsuit to destroy a media organization that embarrassed him:

Thiel’s self-mythologizing provides a cover for all of this, while making him far richer: for example, his campaign to make us think that Palantir played a role in killing Osama bin Laden was an obvious gambit to increase…