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_delirium 1059 days ago | link | parent

I'd be somewhat more interested in a program like this if it were being run by someone I believed actually wanted in good faith to improve education/business, rather than having ulterior political motives. Thiel is quite open that his main motivation is that he thinks universities promote politics he dislikes, so he'd like to destroy them for that reason. He also claims that in doing so he'd improve education, but it seems like a secondary motivation. My guess is that he would be willing to accept education even getting slightly worse as a tradeoff, if it got rid of the negative influence (in his view) of universities for libertarian politics.

(See Woz and Salman Khan for examples of education reformers who seem to have education reform as their actual #1 goal.)

edit: Of course, as full disclosure I'm in academia, so perhaps have my own ulterior motives. =] But honestly I think Salman Khan's approach is a bigger threat to the higher-education status quo than Thiel's is, mainly because it's much more scalable. So from a pure self-interest point of view I ought to dislike that one more!



Eliezer 1058 days ago | link

I was there during some of those dinner-table conversations. Topics that were raised: Number of for-profit and non-profit founders who didn't get all the way through college; how successful founders and interesting people seem to be missing the "imitation gene" (Thiel's term); how the standard system filters out different kinds of innovative people at each step of the process; how making it possible to bypass a single stage of the system might have a multiplicative effect on the total number of innovators who survive to adulthood with their creativity intact.

Topics which were not raised, at all, not even in the slightest: Universities having a left-wing influence.

I'm genuinely shocked at the amount of vitriol and conspiracy-theorizing which Peter Thiel is getting over this.

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arram 1058 days ago | link

Can you elaborate on what he meant by 'imitation gene'?

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Eliezer 1058 days ago | link

People who found interesting companies are more likely to fail-to-conform in other ways as well, which is why other venture capitalists don't fund them - they want jeans, not someone wrapped in a towel.

People who engage in standard trendy forms of "nonconformity" that everyone immediately recognizes as "nonconformist" are called "dangerous" or "edgy" or "innovative". People who lack the imitation gene are called "weird" or "crazy".

That's probably not exactly the way Peter Thiel would phrase it - I'm uncomfortable speaking for others - but I don't think he'd disagree.

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kiba 1058 days ago | link

He's dedicated to the cause of eliminating death and aging. That's good enough for me.

In order to eliminate aging and death, you must have an educated and ambitious populace who can mobilize resources to wage war on mortality.

Yes, he's a techno-libertarian, but like all great techno-libertarians he's interested in killing what kill human beings and crystallizing human potential. Aubrey de Grey even mention libertarians as one of the group that is most supportive of his work.

Why libertarianism and anti-aging/anti-death and technology in general goes together? I have no idea.

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sliverstorm 1058 days ago | link

In order to eliminate aging and death, you must have an educated and ambitious populace who can mobilize resources to wage war on mortality.

He may not have put 2 and 2 together there yet.

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rhizome 1058 days ago | link

He's dedicated to the cause of eliminating death and aging. That's good enough for me.

Ridiculous. Anybody who professes commitment to "eliminating death" is hiding a tax-shelter.

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samtp 1058 days ago | link

>eliminating death

This is a pointless exercise that is doomed to failure. Sure, we may be able to extend a person's life to 200 or 300 years. But will we be able to cure all future diseases (for the next million years), eliminate accidents, natural disasters, and sudden body failure? What about when the sun burns out in a few billion years? Will we be able to successfully colonize another planet while keeping the same safety precautions for human life?

Death is as much a part of life as birth. It will not be eliminated unless you eliminate life. To think otherwise is a denial of reality.

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kiba 1058 days ago | link

There will always be people who murders other, doesn't mean we should never try to lower the possibility of murder.

Same thing with death. We should lower the possibility that you will die within in the next 5, 25, 100, and thousand of years, or even million.

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rms 1058 days ago | link

Yes, it's not clear to me that once we eliminate death that we will still be human, but hopefully we won't have eliminated life at the same time.

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puredemo 1058 days ago | link

>Death is as much a part of life as birth. It will not be eliminated unless you eliminate life. To think otherwise is a denial of reality.

The immortal Turritopsis nutricula jellyfish would beg to differ.

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kenjackson 1058 days ago | link

Actually your theory about Thiel matches mine. In fact several months ago I noted on HN that we'll see a full attack on academia by the right through the 2012 election. Some of it overt, but much of it subtle, e.g., it's not our intellect that makes us a great country, but rather something no one can accurately measure, like our ability to empathize.

Regarding his politics, he's given multiple accomodating interviews to National Review, the founding conservative magazine in the US. And you can just look at his public donation record -- it's more than a quarter of a million dollars -- 100% Republican.

Of course he won't come out and say, "I'm trying to dismantle higher education as part of a larger political agenda", but at least to some (including myself), the evidence is striking.

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wheels 1058 days ago | link

I find it really disingenuous to paint someone as intelligent and quirky as Thiel with the "bah, republican" brush. In terms of where he's putting his money, bear in mind that he's a multi-billionaire; donating a quarter million for him is not a substantial capital commitment.

I wouldn't even call Thiel's goals fundamentally political; he's trying to shape society and throws money at things that he believes will bend it more to his liking. I don't think he gives two shits about the survival of either of the dominant American political parties.

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kenjackson 1058 days ago | link

donating a quarter million for him is not a substantial capital commitment.

Most of his donations were the maximum allowed by US law.

I wouldn't even call Thiel's goals fundamentally political

You don't work with the National Review, the Cato Institute, and consistently donate (and to only one political party) if its not fundamentally political.

he's trying to shape society and throws money at things that he believes will bend it more to his liking.

Umm, yeah, that's what all politicians are doing. My point is is that he's working through and with the conservative political system to make this happen, as their goals are aligned.

Take someone like Salman Khan, OTOH, who is also trying to make a big change, but seems to be taking a much less political approach.

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mwsherman 1058 days ago | link

90+% of Google's political donations go to a single party. Is their business fundamentally political?

[1] http://money.cnn.com/2005/02/14/technology/google_democrats/

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MaxGabriel 1058 days ago | link

First, I don't think this link proves that Google is political, because that link is about their employees. That link just greatly increases the chances that Google's employees are political, in this case democratic.

Second, I think I'm using the word political here to talk about ideological interests, rather than self-interested ones.

But let me presume that link was about the actual company donating to the democrats. Setting aside the issue of Thiel, because I don't know much about him, I think its harder to classify businesses as 'fundamentally political' because of their more singular motive of profit. Businesses, at least those on a massive scale like Google, have a clear goal in mind when donating to candidates: procuring legislation in favor of themselves. Thus, their choice doesn't seem 'political' because it can be boiled down to self-interest. If they were giving lots of money to democrats, it could probably be explained by the democrats being more easily 'bought' on something Google wanted. I wouldn't say that an oil company is 'political' for giving money to republicans instead of environmentally conscious democrats--that's just self-interest to me.

Meanwhile, I think a person donating is much more likely to be doing so because of ideological reasons. However, the greater a person's stake in the outcome of legislation, the more likely their motive is not 'political'. For example, if billionaires don't want a crackdown on tax havens, its probably because of self-interest rather than some ideological commitment that taxation is unjust. Given this, Thiel's donation record alone could just be evidence of self-interest. However, as per the posts around this discussion, frequent interviews with the National Review, Cato, etc., plus the fact that I think its much more probable that individuals are political than companies, makes me think that the Google/Thiel comparison is inaccurate.

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kenjackson 1058 days ago | link

Do they also provide a disproportionate amount of airtime to Mother Jones and the American Prospect? Are they also aggressively pursuing an agenda that people have explicitly described as "liberal".

It's not one thing, but its the combination of his apparent agenda coupled with his background.

With that said, if Google decided to promote planned parenthood links and hid southern baptist links, then I'd probably believe that politics might have something to do with it.

Everyone has a bias. But its important that you be able to see through their front to see what might be their actual end goal that's consistent with their bias.

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yummyfajitas 1058 days ago | link

Have you considered the possibility that regardless of his other views, Peter Thiel may genuinely think that college is not for everyone?

I.e., don't you think it's possible that his individualist, pro-free thinker views inform both his libertarian political views and also his views that our rigid college-based gatekeeping system is unnecessary?

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kenjackson 1058 days ago | link

I.e., don't you think it's possible that his individualist, pro-free thinker views inform both his libertarian political views and also his views that our rigid college-based gatekeeping system is unnecessary?

Probably not since one doesn't naturally flow from the other. Especially since he creates and participates in a several other gatekeeping systems.

Peter Thiel as a libertarian is depressed simply because, despte being white and rich, he can't find a way to deprive other groups of some basic civil rights. What freedom do you have if you can't deprive others of theirs? Indeed Mr. Thiel.

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yummyfajitas 1058 days ago | link

What freedom do you have if you can't deprive others of theirs? Indeed Mr. Thiel.

If you are making statements like this, you clearly know nothing about either libertarianism or Peter Thiel.

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kenjackson 1058 days ago | link

Also, someone just submitted this link to HN:

http://www.newsweek.com/2010/10/18/what-s-wrong-with-silicon...

Some nice quotes from Thiel:

“I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.”

“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,”

And a quote from the article: "The public, he [Thiel] says, doesn’t support unregulated, winner-take-all capitalism, and so he won’t support the public any longer. "

"Thiel is the lead backer of Sea-steading, a movement to create law-free floating communes and explore space, with the avowed aim of creating new POLITICAL structures even farther offshore. "

I don't see how its not obvious that Thiel's motives have an extreme conservative ideological bent. "The extension of the franchise to women" -- WTF?!

And I should have looked on Wikipedia earlier "he founded The Stanford Review, now the university's main conservative/libertarian newspaper".

What else do you need?

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wheels 1058 days ago | link

I was aware of all of the things you mentioned when I made my comment.

You're conflating a whole mess of things: "conservative", "Republican" and "Libertarian" are all different. The only one of those three that can Thiel can be meaningfully labeled is libertarian. He's a couple orders of magnitude further away from Republicans than most Democrats. His political views are radical and outspoken, but "Republican" they are not.

Second, it's silly to assume that someone as prolific as Thiel does everything for an ulterior political motive (investing in Facebook, Zynga, life extension, running a hedge fund?) or that even those that do conform to some pre-fabricated ideology. His views are sufficiently distant from the norm that I find it overwhelmingly clear that he thinks independently on separate issues. If you want to label the lump sum of a person's ideals "political", then sure, they're "political", but that definition isn't particularly useful. The more conventional definition of "political" would be "having to do with governmental politics", and if anything his ideology is anti-political.

Your comment was ad hominem -- you made no attempt to actually draw a connection between this program and his purported political agenda and instead chose to go after the fact that he donated to republicans and gave interviews to the Cato Institute. That's what was disingenuous. That he's a libertarian is obvious; that this act was part of some effort to undermine the universities because of his "conservatism" is not.

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kenjackson 1058 days ago | link

you made no attempt to actually draw a connection between this program and his purported political agenda

Unfortunately you missed the complete premise of my position. His act, the creation of his fund, is inherently conservative. And furthermore, it's something I had long predicted as part of the conservative movement (with ample help from those in the movement saying they were planning on doing such a thing).

I didn't work from Thiel's ideologoy forward. I heard about the act and my first thought, before even originally knowing who did it was that it would be a prominent conservative. I was not shocked to see it was Mr. Thiel. At that point the rest of the pieces fit together perfectly.

You can attempt to downplay Thiel's ideological motivation, but only the most diehard conservatives (of which there are plenty on HN) will disagree.

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archgoon 1058 days ago | link

Hi, I'm always a bit confused whenever people talk about how the Khan Academy is revolutionary. How is it significantly different than the MIT Open Courseware? Is it just felt that the quality of the lectures is so much better?

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nerfhammer 1058 days ago | link

Khan Academy is designed entirely for singular at-home study, where OCW is sharing course materials meant for MIT classes which are often difficult to follow if you don't have access to the labs, recitation, textbooks, readings, etc. that are meant to go along with the lectures.

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iandanforth 1058 days ago | link

I'm curious, have you used both? Did you find them equal? When I've them I find myself using Khan academy for longer periods of time than I originally intended and OCW for shorter periods of time.

Genuinely curious about your experience!

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alexandros 1058 days ago | link

"Thiel is quite open that his main motivation is that he thinks universities promote politics he dislikes, so he'd like to destroy them for that reason."

[citation needed]

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bugsy 1058 days ago | link

> Thiel is quite open that his main motivation is that he thinks universities promote politics he dislikes, so he'd like to destroy them for that reason.

_Delirium, could you please provide a citation both where Thiel openly stated that he wants to destroy universities, and that he wants to destroy them because they "promote politics he dislikes"? Thanks in advance.

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szany 1059 days ago | link

Source?

I hope you're not implying that the point of the Fellowship is to destroy academia.

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hugh3 1058 days ago | link

I don't think Thiel is naive enough to think that anything you can do with twenty people and two million dollars will "destroy" academia, but he does seem to have an agenda and the desire to prove a point.

The point, however, is silly. Cherrypick the twenty brightest students you can find, give 'em a bunch of money and all the connections that come from having Peter Thiel invested in your success, and I'm sure that a lot of 'em will do well. But that doesn't scale.

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rowaway1 1058 days ago | link

the spread of startup accelerators in the style of y combinator suggests that the entrepreneurship-as-education model is growing. not going to scale to everyone, but that's not the point. the point thiel's making is that entrepreneurs fare well without school, perhaps better, because when they're not in school taking instruction, they're in the world building things. if that's true, what's silly about it? if it's true that we're hampering entrepreneurship by keeping a special breed of human being tied up on class during 4 of their prime years, when we could accelerate entrepreneurship by giving them money to start things, then that's actually quite a profound mistake. so if thiel's project succeeds to the point where more such accelerators pop up, siphoning entrepreneurs out of school to achieve success without a degree, then he's made a profound point.

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krasmark 1058 days ago | link

I'm not sure this is exactly a source, but this article by Thiel tends to imply that he thinks the system is pretty broken : http://www.cato-unbound.org/2009/04/13/peter-thiel/the-educa.... And then Thiel has talked about the education bubble (links on HN previously, too) : http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2431431.

Thiel is definitely pro "different" from the current system.

I think the idea of promoting more entrepreneurial activities earlier is great, but it seems very anti-university/higher ed in his vision rather than as an alternative path.

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szany 1058 days ago | link

See my comment here: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2584159

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rms 1058 days ago | link

This is filled with disenguous statements, but I'll pick on one of them.

You use the word "destroy". Thiel doesn't want to destroy universities. He thinks their product is overvalued and that the price should be lower. One reality where the price of college was revalued would be one where a whole lot less people go to college, unless supply and demand becomes even more borked.

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