Zero to One: Notes on Startups, Or How to Build the Future
New York: Crown Business, 2014
Peter Thiel, founder of Paypal, Palantir, and the first investor in Facebook shocked Silicon Valley with his early endorsement of Donald J. Trump and his role in the subsequent destruction of Gawker.
Thiel’s support came at a considerable personal cost: in addition to howling by the usual suspects, his endorsement was immediately followed by veiled and not so veiled attempts to have him removed from Facebook’s board of directors. The hot takes by America’s pundit class offered little insight into why a tech billionaire, whose assets appreciate when more H1B visas are approved, would support a candidate who threatens to shatter the globalist oligarchy. The worst takes argued that Thiel only supports Trump because much like Trump, Thiel has a knack for making journalists “Wow. Just Wow.” Thiel’s greatest hits before the Trump endorsement include:
- Accurately summarizing what the academic literature says about the impacts of female suffrage on total government activity in the US and elsewhere.
- Accurately describing the chilling effects of politically correct culture on actually existing free speech and multiculturalism’s role in the spread of political correctness.
- Bankrolling the lawsuit which destroyed Gawker.
We won’t entertain these explanations, however amusing the psychology may be of those arguing that Thiel and Trump’s alliance stems from their shared ability to trigger progressives. More plausibly, journalists have argued that Thiel’s support of Trump was intended to solidify the GOP’s transformation from a party of small government ideologues, religious zealots, and neocons into a nationalist party, agnostic about (even if privately disgusted with) LGBTQQIA, that treats the size of government as a means to Make America Great Again rather than an end. By far the best take on Thiel comes from self-described canuckservative Samuel Hammond, who describes the aforementioned transformation as “small beans.” Hammond provides evidence for an alternative theory of Thiel which can be summarized as follows:
- Palantir’s work with the Department of Defense convinced Thiel that America’s government is broken and gave him a financial stake in fixing it.
- Motivated by his experience, but finding libertarian theories of reform unrealistic or unsatisfactory, Thiel encountered neoreaction.
- Trump’s presidency offers Thiel a chance to become the sovereign of America under a kind of “corporate feudalism.”
Much more convincing than his fellow journalists, Hammond’s analysis nevertheless suffers from incompleteness and inaccuracy. Trump’s rhetoric from the first Republican debate to his RNC convention speech (titled: “I AM YOUR VOICE”) casts himself as a radical democratic populist, not a neoreactionary. Despite the fevered imaginations of leftist academics, it is difficult to imagine Trump as a principled Straussian; among other problems, Hammond’s vision of Trump delegating domestic and foreign affairs to Thiel as the CEO of America Inc. requires that we take long-debunked claims by bitter Kasich staffers as fact. Nonetheless, Hammond’s article, based in large part on a close reading of Peter Thiel and Blake Masters’ Zero to One: Notes on Startups, Or How to Build the Future, inspired me to pick up a copy of the book for myself. Needless to say, my read of Zero to One (ZtO hereafter) did not suggest that future God-emperor Trump would be secretly taking orders from bookish introvert Thiel, who once said Trump is “sort of symptomatic of everything that is wrong with New York City.” ZtO, which anyone sympathetic to any faction of the alternative Right (Alt Right hereafter) should read, supports a more straightforward conclusion. The argument is as follows:
- Because both lead to short-run economic growth in theory, policymakers, businessmen, and media elites believe and act as if globalization can substitute for technology (ZtO pp. 8 and 9). In practice, this means that TPP substitutes for regulatory reform, open-borders for education reform, etc.
- These elites are wrong; the combination of globalization and slowing technical advance is leading to environmental, sociocultural, and economic decline if not disaster (ZtO p. 9).
- More speculatively, blind globalization has the potential to reduce the rate of technical advance to zero or even negative, greatly increasing the probability of humanity’s extinction in the near term (p. 194).
- Trump’s immigration and trade policies would roll back globalization while his regulatory and infrastructure policies would encourage technical progress at home. Paradoxically, Trump’s victory could be viewed by the aforementioned elites as a disaster sparked by irresponsible globalization, bringing them closer into line with Thiel’s understanding of the world (specifically, Proposition 2 above).
Persecution and the Lost Art of Reading: Chapter 1 and Conclusion
ZtO’s preface states that “There’s no reason why the future should happen only at Stanford, or in college, or in Silicon Valley” but it is difficult to read the book and conclude that Thiel, who is well-acquainted with the writings of Leo Strauss, is writing for anyone but American college students with potential to found high-tech companies. Casual references to Ayn Rand, Shark Tank, Jeopardy!, and the geography of San Francisco are strewn throughout the book without definition or explanation. China and India, where Davos suggests we will find the high-tech entrepreneurs of the future, are only mentioned as examples of the pernicious effects of globalization without technical progress.
In Chapter 1, “The Challenge of the Future” Thiel lays out his 10,000-foot view of how the world works. He believes successful entrepreneurs are drawn from those who have good answers to the question, “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?” He contrasts, “horizontal or extensive progress” — copying ideas that work, or going from 1 to n with “Vertical progress . . . doing something nobody else has ever done,” going from 0 to 1. He calls the former tendency globalization and the latter possibility technology. Thiel lays out his technological stagnation thesis: in short, contra conventional wisdom, Thiel views the era since 1971 as one with only “limited technological development, mostly confined to IT” and rapid globalization. With this in mind, he answers his contrarian question as follows (p. 9):
Most people think the future of the world will be defined by globalization, but the truth is that technology matters more. Without technology change, if China doubles its energy production over the next two decades, it will also double its air pollution. If every one of India’s hundreds of millions of households were to live the way Americans already do — using only today’s tools — the result would be environmentally catastrophic. Spreading old ways to create wealth around the world will result in devastation, not riches. In a world of scarce resources, globalization without new technology is unsustainable.
It is difficult to describe how contrarian this sentiment is to our (((elites))). The World Bank, IMF, US Treasury, development banks, and academia spend enormous quantities of time, brains, and money devising and implementing new plans to help sub-Saharan Africa and central Asia to reach today’s technical and economic frontier. Your average development policymaker stays up at night worrying about what will happen should these efforts fail. Thiel worries about what will happen if they succeed. A quick ctrl+f, however, yields no results in Hammond’s review for globalization, globalism, or even the environment! The closing of the libertarian mind blinds them to what is right in front of them (or in the very first chapter of the book for our case). For up-and-coming journalists of the think-tank-right critical thought on these topics in public is verboten. Thiel concludes the book as follows:
If we define the future as a time that looks different from the present, then most people (ed: that Thiel spends time with) aren’t expecting any future at all; instead they expect coming decades to bring more globalization, convergence, and sameness. In this scenario, poorer countries will catch up to richer countries, and the world as a whole will reach an economic plateau. But even if a truly globalized plateau were possible, could it last? In the best case, economic competition would be more intense than ever before for every single person and firm on the planet . . . Without new technology to relieve competitive pressures, stagnation is likely to erupt into conflict. In case of conflict on a global scale, stagnation collapses into extinction.
One should recall that ZtO is not written exoterically as a political manifesto but as a guide for future high-tech entrepreneurs in college. Given his assumed role as Cassandra, warning of disaster to even those distant from the seat of policymaking, how plausible is it that, as Hammond concludes, Thiel’s endorsement stems from an obscure-even-by-libertarian-standards theory (not shared by Donald Trump himself) justifying corporate feudalism?
One-to-Two: Notes on Chapters 2–8 and 11 of ZtO, Or How to Build the Ethnostate
A running theme in the remainder of the book is that although the conventional wisdom may be wrong, one must understand precisely why it’s wrong to take advantage of it. Monopolists lie about being monopolies to evade competition and political scrutiny. Thus, firms claiming to face intense competition may be in markets rife with opportunities for entrepreneurs. Businesses facing debilitating competition lie for because of pride, to attract investment, and to retain workers. One should be wary of working or competing with companies describing their market position as dominant. According to venture capitalist Thiel, venture capital funds (VCs) inadvertently lie about the Paretian nature of their returns because they are present-focused and naïve. VCs should only invest in companies that have the potential to double their current holdings. Entrepreneurial gurus mislead because they were emotionally or financially scarred by their experience in the 1990s. To Thiel, this problem is easy to solve: read his book! Economists believe competition is good because perfect competition is “what’s easy to model.” One should ignore economists. Academics and journalists (inadvertently?) lie about the role of chance in life because they have absorbed a bad philosophy. Thiel offers no practical solution for ameliorating this last problem, noting that “nothing short of a cultural revolution” (that’s us!) can fix the malaise.
It is a testament to the book’s utility that it not only helps one to understand the events of 2016 and beyond, but offers advice of immediate practicality for nascent Alt Right projects. Those with experience in the belly of the American MBA machine will confirm that entrepreneurship research competes with grievance studies to achieve the highest ratio of tenure-track faculty positions to insight in academia. It was unsurprising then that Peter Thiel, who has approximately no academic training in business, outlines a new theory of optimal American entrepreneurship in Chapters 2 through 8 of ZtO at least meritorious as its competitors; it is these chapters that make the book required reading for the Alt Right’s creative class.
In Chapters 2 and 3, Thiel uses the 1990s tech bubble (in which he made his fortune) to take potshots at current trends in scholarship on entrepreneurship, singling out the cult of “disruption,” and the so-called lean start-up. Contrasting Thiel’s theory of optimal entrepreneurial activity against competing schools of thought is worthwhile for academics and those with serious interest in entrepreneurship as a career but less pressing for us than his conclusions, which might as well have been called Rules for New Right Radicals (p. 21):
- It is better to risk boldness than triviality.
- A bad plan is better than no plan.
- Competitive markets destroy profit.
- Sales matter just as much as product.
These points are not discussed chronologically but interspersed throughout Chapters 3 through 8 and 11 and so we order our discussion of the book by rule rather than chronologically. Fortunately, the most important lesson that the Alt Right can take from the book is contained in the first rule: wherever the tradeoff exists Alt Rightists should attempt to go from Zero to One, creating new and sustainable organizations, rather than attempting to duplicate leftist institutions, e.g. going from One to Two.
Rule #1: Make Tomorrow’s Commanding Heights of Culture
In theory, the entrepreneur makes an unlikely savior of any race. Profit maximization acts as a powerful force to tear all biological bonds asunder: between man and his environment, between man and his ethnicity, and between man and his race. Thus, it is easy to understand the New Right’s apprehension towards market-oriented change and the power of entrepreneurial activity (read: “shilling”) for good. For the moment, let’s consider the following thought experiment: can you imagine the position the Right would be in if Zuckerberg was a secret White Nationalist? Instead of low-level guerrilla warfare, Europe would already have concluded its brief but bitter civil war. Commissioner Spencer, appointed by EU President Orban, would be initiating the Reconciliation and Truth Committee for prosecuting EU leadership responsible for European dispossession. In America, each Sunday we would hear Eleanor Clift on the McLoughlin Group screech that “Republicans caused the decline of the white working class!” Facebook’s trending page would consist of an unending stream of recent news accounts of black people committing crimes against whites interspersed with selected Haaretz, Jewish Daily Forward, and Jerusalem Post articles. Progressive pundits, kvetching about media bias, would be wined and dined at Facebook’s HQ and regale cocktail parties in New York City and D.C. with stories of their experiences in Silicon Valley and full-throated free market defenses of its internal practices. Hundreds of applicants to Counter-Currents’ summer internship program would be turned away with short e-mails stating that “This year had the most competitive applicant pool in the history of Counter-Currents Publishing. Unfortunately, your application was not selected this year.” The Daily Shoah would run each day — or at least twice a week. And all this with no “real-world activism” by the Zuck!
Alas, as Thiel writes (p. 1):
Every moment in business happens only once. The next Bill Gates will not build an operating system. The next Larry Page of Sergey Brin won’t make a search engine. And the next Mark Zuckerberg won’t create a social network. If you are copying these guys, you aren’t learning from them.
But why can’t one of us be the next Bill Gates or Larry Page? Chuck C. Johnson of GotNews.com, in his most recent interview, identifies the commanding heights of culture, media, academia, and governance, as ripe targets for disruption. Similarly, Vox Day argues that the left’s drive to “no platform” the Right has made it imperative that we develop replacements Reddit, Wikipedia, Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook. Both Chuck J. and Vox Day point out that SJW mobs create opportunities for Alt Right entrepreneurs to get loyal, high-quality labor at considerable discounts. In other words, Vox and to a lesser extent Chuck argue the Alt Right should devote its resources to going from One to Two in the commanding heights of culture to forge a space for real right-wing discourse. Chapter 5 of ZtO cautions against doing so blindly (pp. 56-57):
If you think of yourself as an insurgent battling dark forces (ed: which we do), it’s easy to become unduly fixated on the obstacles in your path. But if you truly want to make something new, the act of creation is far more important than the old industries that might not like what you create. Indeed, if your company can be summed up by its opposition to already existing firms, it can’t be completely new and it’s probably not going to become a monopoly.
An elementary theorem from intermediate microeconomics tells us that a firm in competitive equilibrium cannot have greater profits than a monopolist. Given that all of the mainstream social media that Vox seeks to replace bar Facebook lose money, going from One to Two is not likely to be sustainable for any length of time. The Alt Right, as far as I know, has access to neither ideologically friendly billionaires nor public markets and so it simply cannot absorb the kinds of costs associated with competing against technology behemoths. Many programmers I have worked with on Alt Right projects simply do not grasp that one reason mainstream social media organizations feel free to ban, shadow ban, quarantine, and block Alt Right activity in the first place is at least in part because we are small enough that these organizations can afford to lose us. This suggests small (nonexistent?) profit opportunities, even if the Right’s dispossession is global rather than limited to the Anglosphere. Recall the recent banning of Milo Yiannopoulis from Twitter. To Breitbart, the ban portended a dark future for the company, the evidence of which could clearly be seen in Twitter’s stock price, which dropped like a rock within a week of the ban:
On that day (ed: the day Milo was banned) Twitter’s closing share price was $18.33. Jack Dorsey’s 21.86 million shares (3.2% equity) were worth about $400,693,800. Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud’s 34.9 million shares (5.2% equity) in the newly sharia-compliant Twitter totalled about $639,717,000.
Just six trading sessions later, Twitter’s stock fell 13.97% to $15.77. The drop in value of Jack’s holding totaled just short of $56,000,000 while Prince Alwaleed suffered a loss of more than $89,000,000. The total market cap of Twitter fell from $12.87 billion to 11.16 billion, $1.71 billion of shareholder wealth deleted like a misspelled tweet.
But by August 15th, 2016, only three weeks later, Twitter’s equity reached a six-month high of $20.86. The stock market’s best estimate suggests banning one of the Right’s most high-profile figures did no permanent damage to Twitter’s bottom line. Market participants concluded that the departure of even a high-profile figure like Milo does little to dampen Twitter’s network effect advantage, which Thiel defines as follows (p. 50):
Network effects make a product more useful as more people use it. For example, if all your friends are on Facebook, it makes sense for you to join Facebook, too. Unilaterally choosing a different social network would only make you an eccentric.
Mensa member Vox Day appears to have correctly intuited that network effects make disrupting Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Reddit particularly difficult for the Alt Right in 2016. Wisely, Vox Day chose the dying science fiction and fantasy (SFF) publishing industry for disruption by founding Castalia House, but rumors abound that he and others are working on an alternative to Wikipedia with numerous improvements. My unconditional prediction is that these and other efforts to merely replicate existing mainstream social media with a right-wing or “free speech” twist will fail to yield a substantial profit and are unlikely to generate the kinds of metapolitical changes we desire. I make this prediction not because I believe that the technical chops of the Alt Right are lacking (although we are fewer in number than our counterparts on the Left), but simply because this is the fate of the average start-up with only one edge. In Thiel’s words (p. 57), “Disruptive companies often pick fights they can’t win.” How can the Alt Right’s entrepreneurs pick winnable fights? Thiel gives the following guidance (p. 48):
As a good rule of thumb, proprietary technology must be at least 10 times better than its closest substitute in some important dimension to lead to a real monopolistic advantage. Anything less than an order of magnitude will probably be perceived as a marginal improvement and will be hard to sell, especially in an already crowded market.
Better is subjective of course, and Vox Day is careful to write that the Alt Right must develop “superior” alternatives, but a “free speech” alternative absent other improvements is, being generous, only twice as good as the incumbent (as both sides of the political spectrum would be represented). Rumors abound that Vox Day’s Wikipedia-competitor rollout will feature several improvements over the original. Given Wikipedia’s enormous first-mover advantage and the difficulty of achieving a true 10x advantage, one way we can win is Vox Day’s technical improvements comprise a kind of Batman gambit in which simple duplication of them by Wikipedia would move the Overton window towards the Alt Right. Total economic victory, of the kind that Netflix achieved over Blockbuster or Facebook over Myspace, will probably elude us for the time being. To see why this is likely, note that we already have many alternatives to the mainstream social media organizations that Vox Day identifies, and they don’t do particularly well. Russian Vkontakte and Chinese Renren compete with Facebook; Metapedia, Conservapedia, and countless others compete with Wikipedia; Ghost competes with Tumblr; Chinese Weibo competes with Twitter; Voat competes with Reddit. All of these websites could make fine alternatives for the Alt Right and are unlikely to censor us to the same extent the mainstream social media sites do for some time. Many of them contain marginal improvements over their competitors, yet they have not noticeably changed our metapolitics. Simply put, for North Americans, these alternatives are not 10x better and thus are in no danger of destroying their mainstream social media counterparts. Contrasting the impact and profitability of a One-to-Two-type media company like Voat (right-wing Reddit), against a Zero-to-One-type like WeSearchr provides a particularly illustrative case study.
In 2014 and 2015, Voat (rhymes with goat) was an exciting front in the battle against internet-leftists that began with GamerGate. Originally founded by Swedish student Atif Colo, the site’s traffic exploded with the revelation of widespread censorship and subsequent banning of popular subreddits Coontown and Fatpeoplehate. Even though Voat.co was not SJW controlled, had a genuine commitment to free speech, and introduced several innovations over the SJW-converged Reddit, traffic at Voat.co has been continuously dropping since late 2015. Voat’s traffic has declined even as Reddit’s user abuse escalates — e.g. recently announcing that it will achieve sustainable earnings by selling private user data to the highest bidder. The most complete evidence of the Voat project’s failure came this year when all Alt Right leaders conducted question and answer sessions through Reddit.com rather than the platform designed for them.
But even if Voat were immediately profitable, I would argue that this would not necessarily justify expending the Alt Right’s limited technical capacity on it and other disruptive projects. Thiel explains why (p. 56):
The concept (ed: of disruption) was coined to describe threats to incumbent companies, so startups’ obsession with disruption means they see themselves through older firms’ eyes.
Leftists engineered the mainstream social media we seek to replace for essentially leftist ends. As Roosh suggests in his article defining the SJW, it is not a coincidence that SJWs congregate on Tumblr — which has a simplistic design that lends itself to the propagation of memes and pornography rather robust discussion. Our technologies reflect our values. The development of superior Leftist technologies may aid us by generating revenues for our organizations and denying those profit streams to our enemies. On the other hand, by competing with existing organizations, we forgo the opportunity to create platforms and tools that make leftists see the world through our eyes.
Peter Thiel continues (pp. 48-49):
The clearest way to make a 10x improvement is to invent something completely new. If you build something valuable where there was nothing before, the increase in value is theoretically infinite. A drug to safely eliminate the need for sleep, or a cure for baldness, for example, would certainly support monopoly business.
Or you can radically improve an existing solution: once you’re 10x better, you escape competition.
I believe that if any Alt Righter in Vox Day’s program does not have 10x improvements or “radically” improved versions of each competitor in mind for their proposed replacements, then they would be wise to direct their efforts to projects in new markets, with new products that will inevitably reflect our values. Consider WeSearchr, essentially a for-profit Wikileaks started by our very own Chuck Johnson. WeSearchr is a crowdfunded information clearing house, and it is a prime example of going from Zero to One. Askers with queries post requests for information to the platform. If there is enough interest in the request, they can set a bounty to collect money to pay for the answer to the question. Members of the public can donate to reach the bounty minimum. Once the bounty minimum is reached, anyone with a proposed answer can run that answer by the asker, who will determine which answer satisfies them. The Asker can then publish the answer to an outlet of their choice or WeSearchr. The Asker, WeSearchr, and researcher who deliver the winning answer split the bounty. Started less than a year ago, WeSearchr has already broken some big stories, most recently a tape of so-called war hero John McCain praising his Viet Cong captors.
WeSearchr is not likely to be profitable at this stage of the start-up cycle, but it has already secured the for-profit news cycle driven information clearing house space for the Right.  With its first-mover advantage and venture cycle funding for displacing competitors drying up, Thiel’s rule of thumb suggests that competitors will have an extremely hard time competing with WeSearchr. Most importantly, WeSearchr’s business model embeds Rightist concerns, namely the quest for a politics that reflects the unadulterated truth and a willingness to use market mechanisms to obtain that truth. The Alt Right should watch its trajectory closely. In short, the Alt Right’s attempts to displace the mainstream social media should focus on doing new things.
Rule #2: Doomsday Pornography Prevents Proper Planning
Of course, the next logical question is: how can we conjure the next WeSearchr? Thiel cannot give a precise answer to this question, but he gives three dichotomies meant to help us in our quest: indefiniteness versus definiteness (Chapter 6: You Are Not a Lottery Ticket), normality versus power laws (Chapter 7: Follow the Money), and secrets versus convention (Chapter 8: Secrets). For us, Rule #2 derives from Chapters 6 and 8, which we discuss in this section.
Thiel’s apparent “contrarianism” more often than not results from simply being more mentally agile than the median academic in the circles he runs with. To Catholic intellectuals he is a cornucopian, to libertarians he is a fascist, to NRO conservatives he is a Luciferian, to liberals a ruthless, and inhuman free market capitalist. In all of these circles, he suffers opprobrium because he uncovered a secret and, for better or worse, shared it with the circle. He defines a secret as follows (pp. 93-94):
A conventional truth can be important — it’s essential to learn elementary mathematics, for example — but it won’t give you an edge. It’s not a secret.
Remember our contrarian question: what important truth do very few people agree with you on? If we already understand as much of the natural world as we ever will — if all of today’s conventional ideas are already enlightened, and if everything has already been done — then there are no good answers . . . Every correct answer is necessarily a secret: something important and unknown, [ed: or] something hard to do but doable. If there are many secrets left in the world, there are probably many world-changing companies yet to be started.
It can be argued that the Alt Right consists of little else but secrets in Thiel’s sense. What do we do with them? Thiel gives some advice in the conclusion of the Chapter 8 (pp. 105-106):
If you find a secret, you face a choice: Do you tell anyone? Or do you keep it to yourself?
It depends on the secret: some are more dangerous than others . . . So who do you tell? Whoever you need to, and no more. In practice, there’s always a golden mean between telling nobody and telling everybody — that’s a company.
Most of the current Alt Right leaders have come to their positions by convincing others that they had secrets. In Thiel’s phraseology, they formed cults (p. 98). But cults without objectives outside conversion will not be sufficient to achieve our ends. The next generation of Alt Right leadership must have skills outside persuasion and media. Thiel elaborates on the mindset required to take advantage of secrets in Chapter 6, which begins with the question of whether business success “comes from luck or skill” and comes down decidedly in favor of skill. As Greg Johnson noted in his recent interview with Manifest Destiny, fantasies like The Turner Diaries naturally appeal to the White Nationalist Right. To take them seriously as our endgame is a tactical mistake. We are undergoing a slow cleanse that demands we build power and capacity to reverse. If Trump is elected, we will even have the time to do so through purely electoral means. If Trump loses, we will need plans to build nongovernmental capacity, and this will require that we rediscover the values which drove European civilization from “the Renaissance until the mid-20th century” (pp. 60-61):
. . . luck was something to be mastered dominated, and controlled; everyone agreed that you should do what you could, not focus on what you couldn’t. Ralph Waldo Emerson captured this ethos when he wrote: “Shallow men believe in luck, believe in circumstances . . . Strong men believe in cause and effect.” In 1912, after he became the first explorer to reach the South Pole, Roald Amundsen wrote: “Victory awaits him who has everything in order — luck, people call it.” No one pretended that misfortune didn’t exist, but prior generations believed in making their own luck by working hard.
If you believe your life is mainly a matter of chance, why read this book?
We should reject the “unjust tyranny of chance” in our outlooks not just because it is ineffectual but because it is unaesthetic. Thiel recalls an incident in which (p. 60):
Jack Dorsey, founder of Twitter and Square, tweeted to his 2 million followers: “Success is never accidental.”
Most of the replies were unambiguously negative. Referencing the tweet in The Atlantic, reporter Alexis Madrigal wrote that his instinct was to reply: “‘Success is never accidental,’ said all multimillionaire white men.” It’s true that already successful people have an easier time doing new things, whether due to their networks, wealth, or experience. But perhaps we’ve become too quick to dismiss anyone who claims to have succeeded according to plan.
Even depraved white men like Jack Dorsey carry the mantle of Western Civilization in their sentiments towards the future. For Western man, Fortuna is a slave and not a master. Thiel calls the passive attitude towards chance exemplified by Alexis Madrigal (as a critic of Jack Dorsey) towards the future indefinite-ness, writing (p. 61):
You can expect the future to take a definite form or you can treat it as hazily uncertain. If you treat the future as something definite, it makes sense to understand it in advance and work to shape it. But if you expect an indefinite future ruled by randomness, you’ll give up on trying to master it . . .
Does this not describe our vanquished Cuckservative enemies, who were content to standard aside history yelling rather than taking definite actions to advance their cause? Worse, does it not already describe the stated strategy of the Passivists? Given the impressive background of the average Passivist, it is hard not see their attitudes towards power as a reflection of their organization kid backgrounds that Thiel chastises as follows (p. 62):
In middle school, we’re encouraged to start hoarding “extracurricular activities.” In high school, ambitious students compete even harder to appear omnicompetent. By the time a student gets into college, he’s spent a decade curating a bewildering diverse resume to prepare for a completely unknowable future. Come what may, he’s ready — for nothing in particular.
In addition to definiteness and indefiniteness, Thiel’s metaperspective includes a dimension for optimism or pessimism (p. 63), “You can also expect the future to be either better or worse than the present. Optimists welcome the future; pessimists fear it.” From Thiel’s framework, it’s hard to see Donald J. Trump as anything other than a definite optimist with concrete plans to Make America Great Again. Thiel defines the definitely optimistic perspective as follows (p. 64):
To a definite optimist, the future will be better than the present if he plans and works to make it better. From the 17th century through the 1950s and ’60s, definite optimists led the Western world. Scientists, engineers, doctors, and businessmen made the world richer, healthier, and more long-lived than previous imaginable.
Unfortunately, for the Donald, the America of today (and especially our Cuckservative opposition) is characterized by indefinite optimism, not definite optimism (p. 68):
After a brief pessimistic phase in the 1970s, indefinite optimism has dominated American thinking ever since 1982, when a long bull market began and finance eclipsed engineering as the way to approach the future. To an indefinite optimist, the future will be better, but he doesn’t know how exactly, so he won’t make any specific plans. He expects to profit from the future but sees no reason to design it concretely.
Indefinite optimism is the sweet spot for American politicos. Before Donald Trump the old Right’s rhetoric relied on cultish reverence for Ronald Reagan, whose happy-go-lucky demeanor and market-based policies lent themselves to the American Zeitgeist. Thiel looks at Reaganism’s consequences with disdain, and his reasons for doing so will resonate with the North American New Right (p. 68):
Instead of working for years to build a new product, indefinite optimists rearrange already-invented ones. Bankers make money by rearranging the capital structures of already existing companies. Lawyers resolve disputes over old things or help other people structure their affairs. And private equity investors and management consultants don’t start new businesses; they squeeze extra efficiency from old ones with incessant procedural optimizations . . . would could be a more appropriate reward for two decades of resume-building than a seemingly elite, process-oriented career that promises to “keep options open”?
For indefinite optimists, anti-borders policies just make sense. Elites prefer open borders policies because they “keep options open” for both themselves and potential migrants. Every country, and culture is just another option for these globetrotters. To our elites, replacing unionized or high-wage white labor with nonunion Mestizo labor is simply a “procedural optimization” rather than yet another step towards white genocide. For these elites, more migrants simply provides more reason for optimism on everyone’s part. Whole paragraphs of Thiel’s remarks on the pernicious economic effects of both indefinite optimism and indefinite pessimism may as well have been copy-pasted from Unz.com, My Posting Career, or even Counter-Currents (p. 70):
The indefiniteness of finance can be bizarre. Think about what happens when successful entrepreneurs sell their company. What do they do with the money? In a financialized world, it unfolds like this:
- The founders don’t know what to do with it, so they give it to a large bank.
- The bankers don’t know what do with it, so they diversify by spreading it across a portfolio of institutional investors.
- Institutional investors don’t know what to do with their managed capital, so they diversify by amassing a portfolio of stocks.
- Companies try to increase their share price by generating free cash flows. If they do, they issue dividends or buy back shares and the cycle repeats.
At no point does anyone in the chain know what to do with money in the real economy. But in an indefinite world, people actually prefer unlimited optionality; money is more valuable than anything could possibly do with it. Only in a definite future is money a means to an end, not the end itself.
Thiel’s condemnation of indefiniteness should be taken to heart by everyone interested in advancing our cause. Despite the impression that lazy journalists may give, the Alt Right has plenty of big think, essays on its philosophical and empirical bases, and manifestos. What is needed going forward are concrete plans, real policies, and more spectacular real-world operations to meet the global demand that will be sired by a Trump victory. Given current polling, Trump’s victory would repudiate what Thiel calls “indefinite politics,” explained on page 71:
Politicians have always been officially accountable to the public at election time, but today they are attuned to what the public thinks at every moment. Modern polling enables politicians to tailor their image to match preexisting public opinion exactly, so for the most part, they do. Nate Silver’s election predictions are remarkably accurate, but even more remarkable is how big a story they become every four years.
In the event of a Trump loss, we on the Alt Right may have good reasons for pessimism, but we have no excuse for our lack of plans for ourselves, our households, our communities, or our nation. Within Thiel’s framework, reasonable apologia can be made for definite pessimism, which Thiel characterizes as follows (pp. 63-64):
A definite pessimist believes the future can be known, but since it will be bleak, he must prepare for it. Perhaps surprisingly, China is probably the most definitely pessimistic place in the world today. When Americans see the Chinese economy grow ferociously fast (10% per year since 2000), we imagine a confident country mastering its future. But that’s because Americans are still optimists, and we project our optimism onto China . . . Every senior Chinese leader experienced famine as a child, so when the Politburo looks to the future, disaster is not an abstraction. The Chinese public too, knows that winter is coming. Every class of people in China takes the future deadly seriously.
It’s not difficult to outline definitely pessimistic visions for the “winter is coming” wing of the Alt Right. Chuck Johnson argues that a declining American empire creates opportunities for disruption in media,, education, and government. Vox Day argues that the rise of the SJWs and subsequent SJW-convergence creates similar opportunities in any converged sector. While we can debate the particulars of either plan as in Rule #1 above, at least these thinkers have grappled with actually existing problems, and taken the first step by putting forth projects anyone on the web can contribute to. In short, make definite plans with timelines. If you can’t make your own plans, find men in the Alt Right with plans, and follow them. If you can’t find men in the Alt Right with plans, see the next rule.
Rule # 3: Unite and Rule: Altruism for the Right
Early in the Alt Right’s history and I would argue even today, the Alt Right could achieve short-run tactical objectives by exclusively disrupting and destroying Left organizations. This was more feasible and preferable to constructing a new ideology, new organizations, new communities, and a new state. In large part, difficulty coordinating was simply a matter of demographics. One Return of Kings reader commenting on the situation in 2012 wrote:
Splitting and infighting seems to be the norm in any kind of masculine space. Such is the cost of true freedom, I suppose. Whereas feminists and likeminded ilk seem to keep cohesion through a system of enforced tolerance, taboos, threats, and exiling dissidents. The only acceptable disagreement amongst them is usually:
- Someone who can find victimhood in an existing ideology, or
- Someone who can one-up the pre-existing ideology by being even more radical.
Unfortunately, I don’t see any real solution to our problem. Conflict seems to be the very nature of men, particularly red-pill men. To make the best of the situation, perhaps our energies would be better spent in offense. Rather than try to unite the disunited, we harass, pressure, and divide the enemy into self-destruction — be the barbarians at the gates of their Rome.
As we begin to accumulate political power, and make definite plans, new tactics will be necessary and we will need to draw talent from different kinds of (non-NEET) individuals who share our vision for the globe. While there is enormous underutilized white talent in the rural United States, many of the individuals we attract will share a background competing in the zero-sum academic battles Thiel lambastes throughout Chapters 6-8.
For these people, the Alt Right will be the first coherent political vision they have ever encountered. Unfortunately, contributing in the same way that the Alt Right pioneers contributed is more likely than not to waste everyone’s time. The internet has allowed the Alt Right reach a stage, in less than eight years, in which its podcasts, poems, art, music, movies, forums, and articles compete mainly for the same slowly growing set of consumers. Unless you are planning on creating works for a new niche, or can reach previously unreachable demographics (two questions you should ask yourself before starting a podcast), the greatest contribution you can make is contributing cash or capacity to existing Alt Right media organizations. In general, you should make concentrated donations to fewer Alt Right outfits rather than sparse donations to many Alt Right outfits. If you choose the latter, more of your cash is likely to go into duplicating backroom services (servers and secretarial work). To the greatest extent security will allow, the Alt Right should share the same back office so as to minimize redundancy and maximize the dollar effectiveness of each donation.
Rule # 4: Selling the Alt Right to High-Value Targets and a Brief Discourse on Passivism
Finally, in Chapter 11, “If You Build It, Will They Come?” Thiel discusses the importance of sales. In brief, we should not expect victory or mass persuasion on the basis of our ideas’ content alone. Our little movement has exploded through the use of meme magic and essentially viral marketing. It should be contrasted with modern liberalism and cultural Marxism, which requires billions of dollars in marketing costs to sell an ideologically inferior product. As Thiel writes (p. 130):
Superior sales and distribution by itself can create a monopoly, even with no product differentiation. The converse is not true. No matter how strong your product — even if easily fits into already established habits.
Thiel distinguishes between customers which are not obtained through viral marketing but that cost less than a few hundred dollars to obtain — what he calls “marketing” — and “personal sales” for which customer acquisition may be more than $10,000. While it’s reasonable to assume that the Alt Right’s leaders are following the same strategy as CEO of Palantir Alex (((Karp))), “who . . . spends 25 days a month on the road, meeting with clients and potential clients.” There is another vehicle for us to acquire high-cost, high-reward donors, patrons, fellow travelers, and allies: Passivism.
The chief allure of Passivism is that, to those who have embraced an indefinite future, it is a dominant strategy. In the event of a political victory for our side, the Passivists will be best prepared to reap benefits. In the event of our destruction, the Passivists will be well-poised to disassociate from us while maintaining their material well-being. As cowardly as the strategy may seem when framed this way, Passivists’ ability to rise in the world will give them access to and the ability to win over the kind of high-value individuals we will need to target to win. Once you’re onboard, everything you invest in yourself, you de facto invest in the movement.
As in many other domains of life, women are less likely to need to exert Herculean efforts to obtain access to the high-value “customers” that the Alt Right will need to expand its capacity. Because the relative gains from Passivism are smaller than for men, sympathetic women interested in aiding the movement ought to engage in more overt political activism.
1. To point out two straightforward errors in the linked article: (1) Thiel does not subscribe to the popular “disruption” theory of entrepreneurship as suggested (p. 56: “However, disruption has recently transmogrified into a self-congratulatory buzzword for anything posing as trendy and new. This seemingly trivial fad matters because it distorts an entrepreneur’s self-understanding in an inherently competitive way.”); (2) there is no contradiction between many Marxian theories of social change and putting one’s “faith in massive technological breakthroughs, like life extension, that would transform human life without the messiness of social revolution.”
2. Even journalists sympathetic to Thiel make this mistake. Consider this article implying that Thiel is supporting Trump because he is a libertarian.
3. They are not, but that’s another story.
4. Any Alt Right ideas Trump has encountered are likely to have been filtered through Ann Coulter. As Steve Sailer sarcastically remarks, Trump is probably not a Moldbug reader.
5. Much like thinkers of the Alt Right.
6. I define the Alt Right as consisting of all North American Right-wing alternatives to American conservatism, especially those alternatives espoused by individuals William F. Buckley purged or who were later fired by National Review.
7. I am legally obligated at this point to note that there is a third possibility. Globalization without technical progress may reduce the median living standard in the West by changing the distribution of income, causing real wages and material consumption in the West to drop for the vast majority of Western workers but still increasing total global productivity through simple comparative advantage and economies of scale. This is approximately what has happened since 1973.
8. Really just Bangledesh and the –stans.
9. I think it’s fair to say that much of the Alt Right believes that these efforts, however energetic, are doomed to fail without parallel eugenic processes.
10. Thiel’s early flirtation with corporate feudalism in the form of Seasteading ended poorly.
11. Page 22: “The most contrarian thing of all is not to oppose the crowd but to think for yourself.”
12. I would add an additional reason: most VCs fail and do not wish to admit that they missed “the next Facebook.”
13. Unfortunately, Thiel’s argument here is simply Econ101ism. Thiel’s discussion on high-tech monopoly’s economic consequences is a rediscovery of arguments by economist Joseph Schumpeter’s work from the 1930s and ’40s; similarly, one wonders if he cribbed his notes on the advantage of being a monopoly from the firm’s perspective from David Friedman or Steve Sailer.
14. In general, Thiel makes a few economic errors, e.g., comparing GDP with revenues rather than profits or value-add, for instance (here I find it unlikely that he is relying on an obscure argument by Ed Prescott on calculating the welfare benefits of innovation and more likely he is making a simple Apples to Oranges comparison error), but they do not detract from the book.
15. In office hours, I typically advise undergraduates interested in business to study accounting and finance in lieu of any course that includes “innovation” or “entrepreneurship” in its course title. Doubly so if the modifier “social” appears anywhere in the course title.
16. As worthless as coursework on entrepreneurship tends to be, these schools of thought are not shibboleths, but serious research programs that have emerged from multiple doctoral theses, seminars, books, and perhaps millions of hours of in-field experience.
17. We relegate this elaboration to a future article.
18. I am agnostic about entryism; SJWs have used it to great effect, but it is unclear to me if the psychological and organizational dynamics at play necessitate different tactics by the right.
19. Olaf Stapleton’s Last and First Men, which chronicles the history of mankind and his successors, mentions particular military leaders, scientists, academics, intellectuals, and politicians as altering the course of human history. The word “entrepreneur” does not even appear in the book and American businessmen and business are only mentioned in terms of their contribution to the downfall of the first man and ultimate destruction of humanity. For whatever reason, those who take the long-view of human history strongly discount the role of entrepreneurs.
20. I would also argue that writers and intellectuals on both the New Right and the old non-Marxian left share formative experiences which make them systematically underestimate the power of entrepreneurs to transform society.
21. Chuck Johnson focuses on social media in particular, asking: “What would it be like to have a social media platform you could join based on your genetics?”
22. Consider Vox Day’s mutual assistance blog posts.
23. Roosh V’s attempt to migrate his followers voluntarily to a Twitter alternative may prove particularly instructive for naïve technoseccesionists.
24. Some of the more analytical will note that Castalia House’s near-instantaneous success would appear to contradict my assertion that we are better off avoiding competition in dying industries. Call this the exception that proves the rule. Vox Day had extensive industry experience producing and editing SFF merchandise prior to starting Castalia House. Furthermore, he had a deep social network, many of whom were also purged or in danger of being purged from SFF publishing houses for ideological rather than profit-maximizing reasons. Finally, his business was consumer facing but those we would like destroy are not. Social media companies’ chief products are data and ad space which makes them especially vulnerable to boycott by SJW-controlled corporations.
25. Notice that the latter does not imply the former. Unz.com, Torrents, Napster, and Archive.is have never been profitable in economic terms but have already altered American culture and the political landscape.
26. After writing this essay, I discovered that one of Vox Day’s commenters almost certainly more familiar with the total technical capacity at Vox Day’s disposal than I echoed my concerns and refers to our enemies as controlling “commanding heights everywhere, especially cultural redoubts.” Another commenter notes that there simply might not be enough agenda driven content to make even a perfect Wikipedia competitor viable.
27. In general, technology is not politically neutral.
28. The reason you likely have not heard of them is because they suck.
29. Or Reaxxion (the right-wing version of Gawker Media’s Kotaku).
30. Despite being in the top 30 most visited websites globally, Reddit has never achieved annual profitability which suggests even a massively successful Voat would function as a black hole for financial resources.
31. Reactionary director Christopher Nolan made oblique reference to this failure of the Left’s vision in his 2015 commencement speech at Princeton in which he concluded that the global technocratic elite’s investment in communications as a means for world peace failed to deliver the goods. Engineering elites, believing in the fundamental equality of all ethnicities, races, and cultures unwisely inferred better communications technology would diminish rather than intensify global tensions.
32. I hypothesize that the more politically neutral or Rightist an mainstream social media technology would naturally be, the more massive and systematic the censorship apparatus required to achieve secondary political objectives of the firm. Tumblr, which naturally lends itself to Leftist activity, requires almost no censorship, while Facebook, and even the blogosphere itself require bureaus, offices, and even outside subcontractors to maintain the status quo. Instagram, Reddit, and Twitter retain a modest amount of censorship relative to Facebook.
33. Note that if we obtain any monopolies, we can use the profits generated therein for financing ventures to compete with the existing mainstream social media. I would argue that this indirect method is probably more effective at damaging any particular mainstream social media than direct competition.
34. Thiel would give WeSearchr a much better prognosis than Voat.
35. Attaining commercial power is the only strategy of the Alt Right robust to economic growth.
36. For those entrepreneurs with the luxury of choosing a sector of the economy to disrupt and who are indifferent between two options, an obvious consideration is the ability to deny nonwhites income streams and facilitate self-deportation. For example, an entrepreneur with this perspective would apply self-driving technology to the cabbie industry before commercial trucking.
37. TRS commenter BioCultBeamDelta writing about a popular right-wing blog notes that its “comments usually consist of long-winded LARPing predictions about China and Russia, with a pithy comment at the very end to the effect of ‘you live in interesting times’ or ‘bottom line: stock up on ammo.’”
38. CCJ proposes a stock trading scheme in which companies signaling diversity are systematically shorted. I do not endorse this scheme (since companies signaling diversity might be operating using the handicap principle), but this is a real world of how Alt Right secrets might be utilized.
39. Some of the apocalyptic fantasy is simply the result of Right-wing activism’s low-status. I expect this theme to fade naturally as higher status people join the Cause.
40. Once again, we can simply look to other countries – Brazil in particular – to see what our fate is more likely to look like.
41. How many of us have had conversations in real meetups where one member of the group was convinced that hyperinflation or U.S. debt repudiation was just around the corner? Many times, those claiming economic disaster is on the way “don’t know when it’s coming, but they know it’s coming.” Depending on the precise year, if they marked their beliefs to market, they would have gone bankrupt, yet they prognosticate confidently, often substituting glib metaphors like “What comes up, must come down” for anything resembling economic analysis. They claim that the great recession was easy to see (and they’re not wrong – all recessions are easy to see in hindsight). Insofar as they have no ability to avert or profit from the disaster they forecast every year, Fortuna masters these people.
42. Many in the Christian alt-Right that I have spoken to suspect that end-times theology is more or less a Jewish plot to increase the time preference of true believers. The logic behind this conspiracy theory is simple: if you find yourself believing that the end is near, and that therefore planning is unnecessary to prepare for the future, there is no harm in say, giving away all worldly possessions and your posterity’s birthright.
43. Of course, much like the Joker in The Dark Knight implying that he makes his schemes up as he goes along, the Passivists are just lying or least misleading. The trick is quite easy to recognize when you’ve seen it enough times; they have a private definition of activism designed to irritate normies (because it does not coincide with the commonsensical usage) but which excludes things like donating and campaigning for Donald Trump, funding and filing lawsuits against Leftoid orgs, and Twitter trolling (remember Jokeocracy?). Passivists may argue that they do not expect these activities to generate real change, but just do them “for fun” or lulz. I would ask: how is this different from normie political activity like voting, much of which we know has no economically rational basis? Furthermore, how is the psychology any different from a hipsters who does [insert fun normie activity here] ironically?
44. From Thiel’s perspective, Trump’s transformation of the Republican Party’s perspective from one of indefinite optimism to definite optimism by itself gives plenty reason to endorse him.
45. Mises.org doesn’t count.
46. Trump has already begun to build organizational capacity that can reasonably survive a loss in the election. Volunteering for Trump will allow you to meet like-minded people and gain invaluable experience that may prove even more useful in the event of a Trump loss than a Trump victory. This is one of many reasons why it’s essential that you volunteer even if you’re in a “safe” state. One of the key reasons Obama failed to pass his complete agenda on health reform is that he dismantled the organizational capacity he built in 2008 after winning the election. Trump and the Alt Right should not make the same mistake regardless of whether he wins or loses.
47. The Weekly Narrative has argued that the future of media is 10,000 Cernoviches providing footage directly to the people and bypassing existing media organizations. I am very partial to this view, but would not recommend it as a career option.
48. If you cannot find anyone with plans, you could always join the National Guard or equivalent.
49. Political scientist Thomas J. Main describes the alt-Right as “the first new philosophical competitor to liberalism, broadly defined, since the fall of Communism,” http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-main-alt-right-trump-20160825-snap-story.html.
50. Consider the wild success of Evalion – who reached 1 million views and 50,000 subscribers in less than one month via her since Shoahed YouTube channel. Pretty girls saying things will always be a niche.
51. In my framework, righteous political activism is a good that generates positive externalities and so will be undersupplied in an equilibrium governed by narrowly defined rational self-interest and market organization.
52. Personally, I am of the mind that the best way a sympathetic woman can aid our movement is by having as many high quality children as time will allow, but even taking this as given, a woman may wonder how to use their excess time to best benefit her race.
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