The Year Silicon Valley Went Morally Bankrupt

  • 2016-12-12
  • New Republic

Peter Thiel has had a very good year. He vanquished Gawker, rode out Trumpism to its triumphant conclusion, and is now poised to influence the incoming administration to his advantage. The president-elect, Thiel said in October, “gets the big things right.” It’s still not clear what exactly those “things” are—Thiel has been publicly vague about the specific policy alignments he shares with Donald Trump—but the two share a certain grandiosity and a disdain for the government, as well as a warped view of what it means to be a good and decent human being.

In Silicon Valley, Thiel has long been a critic of democracy, political correctness, and women who have suffered sexual assault. As the Guardian reported in October, Thiel co-authored a 1995 book that derided Stanford University’s “multiculturalism,” accused the rape crisis movement of “vilifying men,” and referred to date rape as “belated regret.” (He’s since apologized for his “crudely argued statements,” but that’s difficult to believe now thanks to his enthusiastic support for Trump.) “Real diversity requires a diversity of ideas,” he wrote, “not simply a bunch of like-minded activists who resemble the bar scene from Star Wars.”

Thiel has suffered few professional repercussions for his outspoken Trumpism. Y Combinator announced in October that Thiel would remain one of its partners, citing a need to protect a “diversity of opinion.” A few days later, Mark Zuckerberg announced that Thiel would also stay on the board of Facebook. “We can’t create a culture that says it cares about diversity and then excludes almost half the country because they back a political candidate,” he wrote in a memo to staff. “There are many reasons a person might support Trump that do not involve racism, sexism, xenophobia, or accepting sexual assault.” Thiel’s company, Palantir Technologies, may have lost clients this year, but according to Buzzfeed News, this was reportedly due to dissatisfaction with Palantir’s services and not the politics of its owner. There has been some dissent—Ellen Pao’s Project Include ended its relationship with Y Combinator over Thiel—but his exalted position in Silicon Valley remains largely intact.

Thiel’s illiberalism—and the tech industry’s tolerance for it in a year when the measure of human decency was horrifically recalibrated—aren’t anomalies, but evidence of Silicon Valley’s decades-long descent into moral bankruptcy.