Peter Thiel Says Culture Of Conformity Drives Stagnation

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Peter Fricke Contributor
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Peter Thiel, the legendary tech entrepreneur and co-founder of PayPal, believes America has entered an era of technological stagnation brought about by a society that fetishizes conformity.

“We’ve had a lot of innovation in the world of bits; not so much in the world of atoms,” Thiel said Tuesday at an event hosted by the Mercatus Center, making the point that most recent advances have been made in the digital arena, rather than the physical sciences.

The reason for this, he claimed, is that innovation depends on individuals who are willing to pursue unconventional, or even controversial, ideas. Such individuals are increasingly rare outside of Silicon Valley, where “the most successful entrepreneurs seem to have a mild form of Asperger’s” that allows them to operate unconstrained by social conventions.

Apart from that notable exception, Thiel said, “I worry that the conformity problem is worse today than it was in the 50’s.” (RELATED: Peter Thiel Talks Politics, Living Forever, and the Need for the GOP to Get Smarter Rep’s)

In part, this conformity is a product of prevailing societal attitudes. “Our culture basically dislikes technology in all its forms,” he asserted, explaining that, “It does not want change; it does not want progress,” because such concepts inevitably create uncertainty.

At the same time, though, Thiel said he is “somewhat pessimistic that government will reverse stagnation,” because while bureaucrats continue to devise ever-more “scientific” regulations, “there is something deeply unscientific about technological progress.”

Although the state has become “dominated by technocratic regulators” in recent decades, for instance, Thiel claimed that the government exhibits less technocratic competence today than it did in the 1930’s and 1940’s. This makes the growing abundance of “micro-regulations” even more damaging than it would have been otherwise. (RELATED: PayPal Co-Founder Remains Major Ron Paul Supporter)

In addition, he asserted that government funding tends to politicize scientific research, gradually marginalizing the “good scientists” who are motivated by intellectual curiosity in favor of “bad scientists” who treat science as an extension of politics.

“When most elected officials are lawyers,” as about two-thirds of the current Congress is, “perhaps they aren’t the best people to direct technological investment,” Thiel suggested.

On the other hand, Thiel also indicated that reversing our current stagnation is possible. “I don’t think the future is some fixed thing that just exists.” (RELATED: Peter Thiel Explains 3 Things the Government Can Do to Help the Economy Boom)

“The future is open to us,” he reiterated. “But if you take a nap, and encourage everybody else to take a nap, the Great Stagnation will never end.”

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