Max Chafkin
On The Dark Genius of Peter Thiel

This week we’re speaking to features editor and tech reporter of Bloomberg Businessweek, Max Chafkin. He’s just released his debut book, the brilliantly researched biography, The Contrarian: Peter Thiel and Silicon Valley's Pursuit of Power. 

If you’ve followed the tech world in any shape or form over the last two decades, then it would be almost impossible to have avoided the name Peter Thiel. One of the most successful venture capitalists of our time, a hugely influential power broker, in the last two decades, he’s navigated his way to becoming the godfather of tech bros.

His politics, his ideas permeate everything that Silicon Valley has become today. Thiel is known for playing puppet master with some of the biggest names in tech, from Elon Musk to Mark Zuckerberg.
A shadowy entrepreneur who has aligned himself with the more conservative side of politics, he’s crafted his worldview out of a hyper-libertarian mindset. From seasteading to the apocalypse to space travel to the quest for immortality and even psychedelics. He epitomises everything that Silicon Valley has now become maligned for. 

To some, Thiel is the OG troll, malevolent and someone to be very suspicious of; to others, he’s a prophet, someone not afraid to speak his mind no matter what the cost. He envisioned the left eating itself decades ago, the coming Balkanisation of the Democratic Party. 

Invariably he’s become one of the most influential and consequential figures in Silicon Valley; some know him as the first investor in Facebook portrayed in the iconic 2010 film The Social Network. Others as the interventionist who helped bring down Gawker in 2016. 

If it all sounds a bit Cloak and Daggers to you, then that’s because it is; Chafkin’s biography is an appropriate metaphor for the questionable motives behind Silicon Valley and an indication of where it could be heading.  

In this wide-ranging discussion, Chafkin and I examine the power elite of Silicon Valley, Peter Thiel’s shapeshifting ideological worldview. We learn about the tight-knit and, at times, the bizarre relationship between Thiel and Elon Musk.
We also learn about Thiel’s prophetic voice on cancel culture and his future plans as a board member for Facebook, now called Meta. 

 

Further Reading:

Rene Girard – Mimetic theory
The Social Network
Zero to One manifesto
52 Insights interview with Christian Angermayer

Max Chafkin:The Contrarian:Peter Thiel and Silicon Valley’s Pursuit of Power is out now

Image: Caroline Tompkins