Sunday, 2 September 2012

Will Thiel wait for us in the future as Dr Eldon Tyrell?

Dr. Eldon Tyrell: a corporate figure in Blade Runner, presented almost as a a kind of deity who has the power of creating life

I think probably not because Thiel isn't really a visionary. He instead seems to spend most of his time playing in other people's sandboxes. Where there's public debate, he's simply a gadfly. The Tyrrell character at least had bioengineering credentials which gave his company a monopoly in the replicant industry, whereas here's Thiel again merely jumping on the bandwagon, as befitting sui generis futurism, by investing in 3D printed meat; the man who publicly decries democracy for humans apparently wants to be remembered as helping to spare animals from becoming our food. Thiel is notorious for wildly throwing money around at any technology he thinks will stick, which to him means capable of facilitating libertarian autonomy by eluding government regulation (and therefore unsubsidised by governments, so if individual consumers can't afford them, in Thiel's world you won't get to reap any of their benefits). His type is probably a dime a dozen on the futures market; the only difference is Thiel gets brand name recognition and therefore publicly because of his association with PayPal. He's clearly not original enough to patent any ideas worth investing in, and this will mean he will have a hell of a lot of ground to make up before he could seriously compete with established players, not least Monsanto, who already have a huge vested interest in biotech and the meat industry.

I have no doubt though that, in principle, Thiel's mindset would amount to a licence to create a future as dystopian as anything in Blade Runner (click on the link underneath his picture in this post for a further taste of what I mean). This goes all the way to Thiel's narcissistic plan to clone himself: here I am reminded of the scene written for Blade Runner that was never filmed. Batty appears to have killed Tyrell, but it later emerges that another section of the pyramidal (signifying plutocracy) corporate headquarters houses a shark swimming around in an enormous tank. Tyrell's brain, apparently for his personal protection and befitting the lack of sleep required for calibration to the rhythms of the market***, had been transplanted into the shark. Simply an incredible image of the parallels between the savage predators of the ocean and the predators of the corporate world. My speculations in this post (partly with tongue firmly planted in cheek) therefore suggest that although Thiel may be only low-hanging fruit, figuratively speaking, when compared to Tyrell in terms of an overall future social impact, he might at least achieve a comparable level of sentient immortality once he decides to use technologies to blur the species boundaries.

I should also point out that Thiel obviously doesn't appreciate how capitalism is actually incompatible with meritocracy. He blames political correctness (see link under Thiel's pic in this post) for fueling the education bubble, claiming that it prevents the articulation of "certain truths about the inequality of abilities". But consider how the poor would be less likely  to tolerate Thiel's ilk if they had to accept the (fallacious) idea that wealth is commensurate with the amount of effort and ability invested. Zizek offers a pithy assessment of the  proposal that:

a viable and orderly social democracy could be based on a deal whereby we give total power and status to a super rich knowledge elite in exchange for all citizens – regardless of merit or effort – being guaranteed a basic income. He dismissed this, in part because he said it took no account of envy. Zizek quoted Frederich Von Hayek who argued – against advocates of social justice – that the poor find it easier to accept the wealthy if they think their fortune is unmerited. For the masses to accept that those at the top deserve their success means the majority have to accept not only that they are poorer but they are less virtuous.

*** which would make sense (LOL!) as an alternative to cocaine, which has long been the drug of choice on Wall Street

(CREDIT TO my fellow blogger Derridata for first offering a comparison of Tyrell and Thiel, and for discussing meritocracy with me)


Veronika Lipińska said...

But Thiel is not an inventor but a venture capitalist. His job is not to invent new things but just shift the money around to bankroll ideas of other people. He is easily confused for an entrepreneur; ye, he shouldnt be. he is a player, a person with imagination. if he just wanted to multiply his resources he would simply invest in energy resources like a 'standard' venture capitalist. yet, instead he plays with science, shoves his money around which creates the illusion that he wants to be involved with agendas/ideas of entrepreneurs. a guy with fantasy or too much spare time on his hands. I think he likes the thrill of new investment which makes him an enterpreneur by proxy but as you said he is not. and he shouldnt be judged as one even tho is is a CEO of PayPal. If not for his PayPal millions he wouldnt have invented anything. PayPal itself can hardly be called an invention coz it just shifts money of other people around.

yet, I agree that Thiel is a man of contradictions. Like a walking portfolio theory. And he falls into this fallacious trap of "education is not for everyone for we are not equal" yet still saying that "the more you work the more money you will make".

Anselmo Quemot said...

Thanks for your comments Veronika.

You won't find any argument from me suggesting Thiel is an inventor: that's why I said he's really no Tyrell, but rather a player "in other people's sandboxes". He's not a visionary and therefore has no ideas to patent. He has to content himself instead with throwing money at other people's ideas, as indeed he has done again with the 3-D meat that is the subject of this post.

In any case, I like your characterisation of him, so I think we're basically on the same page. I also have a sneaking suspicion that he craves immortality because he knows he doesn't really have "a legacy". He's closer to Maxwell's demon controlling capital flows, or a kind of "ghost of the counterfeit"-- if you prefer a more Baudrillardian flavor-- where everything is a signifier of other signifiers in a cultural 'code' grounded only in the relations among its own elements. In short, the fact that Thiel can't really create anything of value may be giving him a severe dose of affluenza, which in turn drives him to always search for something less ephemeral to grab hold of.

Such an interpretation would also ratify the association with Blade Runner, insofar as the film and the novel on which it is based clearly stage the theme introduced in Gothic literature and accelerated since, of the haunting feeling of living in a counterfeit world, and the effect that can have on people's behaviour.