Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Robot Cultist Peter Thiel Exposed

Martin Striz:
The blogosphere is abuzz with the revelation that the James O'Keefe "documentary" is a fraud. This documentary purportedly shows ACORN employees advising O'Keefe and another woman (who supposedly dressed and presented themselves as a pimp and a prostitute) on how to start a child prostitution ring. As a direct result of this "documentary," Congress voted to cut federal funding for ACORN, and, although that action was later overturned, ACORN almost went into bankruptcy. After heavy investigations and allegations of criminal activity (violations of the Invasion of Privacy Act), O'Keefe turned over the full, unedited tapes to avoid prosecution. These tapes show that the "documentary" was heavily edited and that none of the employees advised him on establishing a child prostitution ring. Rather, one employee attempted to gather information on O'Keefe and later contacted law enforcement about the incident. Another employee, supposedly advising O'Keefe's associate on the child prostitution ring, was actually advising her on getting a home loan. More here.

It's definitely scandalous, but it's even more interesting to me, because there is an aspect of this story that involves the transhumanist movement. What you may not know is that Peter Thiel, founder of PayPal and an early investor in Facebook, directly or indirectly funded O'Keefe. Thiel has admitted to giving O'Keefe $10,000, but denied knowing anything about the documentary. He claimed it was for another project.

Whether Thiel donated money directly to the production of the documentary or to another O'Keefe project, this is arguing over a technicality. Shrewd investors are good at complicating the paper trail. It is abundantly clear that the spirit of Thiel's intentions was to undermine an organization that does a lot of good for poor people who are underrepresented in the democratic process. You see, poor people vote against Thiel's privileged interests, just like women do, which is why he appears to hold them and democracy itself in contempt: "Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the [voting] franchise to women — two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians — have rendered the notion of 'capitalist democracy' into an oxymoron." His solution is to escape the very system that made him rich: "The critical question then becomes one of means, of how to escape not via politics but beyond it. Because there are no truly free places left in our world, I suspect that the mode for escape must involve some sort of new and hitherto untried process that leads us to some undiscovered country..."

This sheds some light on why he's an investor in the Seasteading Institute, and transhumanism-affiliated organizations like The Singularity Institute and The Methuselah Foundation. The main point here is that Peter Thiel is a quintessential example of the privileged selfish interests that guide certain currents of transhumanist thought. He is literally the rich, white guy who hates democracy that Dale Carrico so often writes about, when he excoriates the transhumanist community. Thiel wants to build artificial islands to escape Western civilization, John Galt style, and establish an anarcho-capitalist dreamland. Democracy is tyranny on the rich and must be abandoned.

Follow the link to Martin's Veritas Curat to read the whole piece, which continues on from there.

Two pieces of mine in which I have taken up these issues myself are Dispatches from Libertopia: Going Galt on the High Seas (To Infinity and Beyond!) and Democracy at the Transhumanapalooza, in which Thiel has a cameo, among other Ayn Raelian types.

5 comments:

jimf said...

Mr. Striz certainly seems to have changed his tune
since the last time he was heard from on Amor Mundi.

"I am sympathetic to the goals of transhumanism. In the
interest of full disclosure, I spent several years on
transhumanist mailing lists, I was a dues-paying member of
the World Transhumanist Association (now Humanity Plus),
and I donated to the Singularity Institute. However,
I drifted away from the transhumanist community after
becoming increasingly disillusioned by the lack of
skepticism (or realism) about the prospects and timelines
for the development of transhumanist solutions. I also
became increasingly aware of some of the unpleasant
psychological, cultural, and political leanings of a
large number of people within the transhumanist community.
It was even worse back in the 90s when so-called
"extropianism" dominated the transhumanist milieu."

Yes, yes. Artificial intelligence would be cool.
So might faster-than-light travel or contact with
aliens. Not to mention indefinite extension of
the human lifespan. Or the discovery that some
folks really do Shine(TM) with psychic powers.
Putting aside the actual, you know, dislocations that
any or all of these things would cause, any one of
them would be a terrific geek-out.

But, y'know, don't hold your breath. It's bad for your
brain. Sure, keep on reading the Egan and Banks
and Vinge, or reading superhero comics and elves-and-
dragons graphic novels if that's what relieves the
boredom. But try to stay within sight of reality's
shore.

And yes, there does seem to be something slightly
unsavory about a lot of the folks to try to pretend
that the world **is** an SF novel.

Dale Carrico said...

"Don't hold your breath. It's bad for your brain."

Dag, if I'd come up with that it'd be my latest Futurological Brickbat! Excellent!

Martin said...

Mr. Striz certainly seems to have changed his tune since the last time he was heard from on Amor Mundi.

When in the last four years have I ever said anything other than that I am sympathetic to some transhumanist goals but I don't participate in the movement?

Sure, keep on reading the Egan and Banks and Vinge, or reading superhero comics and elves-and-dragons graphic novels if that's what relieves the
boredom. But try to stay within sight of reality's
shore.


I've never read any of those authors. I don't particularly read fiction, much less science fiction. Mostly I read journal articles and textbooks, because I actually do science for a living. You can find my published papers on PubMed, just search "Striz M[AU]". If you can't download them, I can send them to you.

I also teach science. My latest blog post touches on something that I taught recently: http://striz.net/blog/?p=117

I consider myself a skeptic, and my skepticism of the overt optimism of most transhumanists is my biggest problem with them (like where I pointed out in the original blog post that I disagree with their timelines for the development of transcendant technology).

So I just don't know where you're getting that I lack a realistic perspective. Perhaps it is not as conservative as your perspective.

jimf said...

> When in the last four years have I ever said anything other
> than that I am sympathetic to some transhumanist goals but I
> don't participate in the movement?

Well, it strikes me that "increasingly aware of some of the unpleasant
psychological, cultural, and political leanings" is a new
tack for you. Particularly the "unpleasant psychology" part.
Have we not had exchanges on that topic in the past? Maybe I'm
confounding you with lesser SL4ians who have come here to
right great wrongs. I can't be bothered to revisit the history.

> I've never read any of those authors [Egan, Banks, Vinge, . . .]

Well then, you've been missing some of the genuine (and genuinely
valuable, artistically if not scientifically) wellsprings of
late-90s Extropianism (welcome distractions from the tired
themes of libertarianism, cryonics, and cryptography) and,
of course, Singularitarianism. One of the earliest Singularity-
trumpeting Web pages in '96 or thereabouts was named "The High
Beyond" (that's from Vinge's _A Fire Upon the Deep_). Hey,
I stumbled into the whole mishegas by Alta Vista'ing (no
Google back then) Iain Banks' "Culture".

> I don't particularly read fiction, much less science fiction.

All work and no play makes Martin a dull boy.
All work and no play makes Martin a dull boy.
All work and. . . uh, what was I going to say?

Oh yes. Well, back in the late 90s, the self-appointed
Great Guru of the Singularity hisself (and I don't mean Vernor Vinge)
proclaimed that reading science fiction, along with learning
how to program a computer, (and something else maybe -- studying
big numbers? becoming a dungeon master?) were the Sacred Rites
through which a trembling mundane could get properly SL4tified.

Then later, in the early 2000s, the same Guru did a
180 (as gurus are wont to do) and said SF ain't nuttin
like the Real Thingularity, and his disciples have been
parroting that rejection of SF (wearing their ignorance of
or disdain for mehum literature as proudly and ostentatiously
as the Objectivists once waved their cigarette holders)
ever since.

Dale Carrico said...

Martin and I have sometimes disagreed here -- even testily here and there -- but he always offers up actual arguments and responds to my arguments as arguments.

I'm with you, though, on the value of reading Banks, Butler, Egan, Lem, Robinson, Sterling, Vinge, Zelanzy...