Whenever Peter Thiel, the gay PayPal/Facebook billionaire, opens his mouth to speak, it’s anyone’s guess what’s going to come out. Thiel is making the media circuit these days, promoting his new book, Zero to One, and offering his opinion on virtually everything, including car service Uber (“ethically challenged,” although that didn’t stop Thiel from investing in look-alike Lyft).
Perhaps the weirdest remark Thiel has made in an interview was about Twitter. “Twitter is hard to evaluate,” Thiel said on CNBC. “They have a lot of potential. It’s a horribly mismanaged company — probably a lot of pot-smoking going on there.”
It’s strange enough to throw another company under the bus for being a bunch of stoners; it’s even stranger when you consider that Thiel supports marijuana legalization and is known for throwing some wild parties himself.
But strange statements are part and parcel of Thiel’s character along with his unforgivable contributions to antigay, anti-marriage equality advocates such as the loathsome Ted Cruz and the nutty Ron Paul. Here’s a reminder, with seven more of the weirdest statements he’s made through the years.
1. “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.” Thiel made that remark in a statement to the libertarian Cato Institute. Unfortunately, he did not elaborate on what freedom might look like if people don’t have a say in how they are governed. But then Thiel seemed to have been focused not on the people but on the wealthy, that brave band whose rights are trampled daily. What is he worried about, exactly, his private jet getting grounded?
2. “The 1920s were the last decade in American history during which one could be genuinely optimistic about politics. Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women—two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians—have rendered the notion of ‘capitalist democracy’ into an oxymoron.” Thiel wrote this tone-deaf passage for an essay called Education of a Libertarian. Yes, the poor and women have really made it hard for rich white guys. Thiel’s been more careful about his comments since the blowback on that one.
3. “There are all these people who say that death is natural, it’s just part of life, and I think that nothing can be further from the truth.” If by “all these people,” you mean everyone on the face of the planet (or six feet beneath it), well, yes. However, Thiel is very disturbed about the prospect of death and has invested heavily in projects that set out to “cure” it or at least extend life substantially.
4. “If you look outside the computer and the internet, there has been 40 years of stagnation.” Thiel believes that all scientific progress peaked in the 1950s, and that advances have “decelerated” since then. The motto of Thiel’s firm, Founders Fund, is “We were promised flying cars and instead what we got was 140 characters.” Thiel routinely complains that transporation isn’t any faster than it was decades ago. As for breakthrough medical advances, such as treatments for HIV or cancer, that have dramatically changed the arc of human health? Guess they don’t count.
5. “Education may be the only thing people still believe in in the United States. To question education is really dangerous. It is the absolute taboo. It’s like telling the world there’s no Santa Claus.” Thiel thinks that education is just an elaborate bubble and that college doesn’t help kids form their intellectual direction. His Fund selects a small group of young creative tech types every year to start tech companies as not just the alternative to college, but as a kind of cure for it. For the record, Thiel graduated from Stanford twice, once with a B.A., and the second time with a J.D.
6. “Since they don’t think it’s possible they won’t take us very seriously. And they will not actually try to stop us until it’s too late.” The “it” is seasteading, a high-flown idea to create artificial islands in the oceans and populate them with people who will “lead by example” to “demonstrate what a better future could look like.” Thiel is the co-founder of the Seasteading Institute and a major funder of the project. No one has tried to stop seasteading so far, but it’s not because it’s too late. Next time, he might consider funding another project, The Trevor Project, which actually helps people in need.
7. “Keith did not deserve the months of public condemnation and ostracism.” Keith is Keith Rabois, a friend of Thiel’s at Stanford, as the quote would indicate. The incident that trigger the condemnation was Rabois screaming, “Faggot! Hope you die of AIDS!” outside the residence of a dorm supervisor. Rabois was forced to leave Stanford as a result, but Thiel is loyal to his friends, defending Rabois in his 1995 book The Diversity Myth. He later hired Rabois as a vice president at PayPal.