Peter Thiel: The Diversity Myth, A Retrospective

my interview with peter thiel, and reflections on ‘the diversity myth’ thirty years later; stagnation, from science and economics to faith and politics; and back to the future
Mike Solana

Good morning, special delivery: my interview with Peter Thiel.

Fifteen years ago, in the earliest days of our friendship, I’d grab coffee with Peter every now and then when he was in New York, and we would talk about everything: politics, philosophy, what exactly it would take to build a fleet of independent micro-nations in the middle of the ocean (for example). I was 23, and these were the most exhilarating conversations I had ever had. Inevitably, after an hour or so, Peter would mention a book I had never heard of, strongly suggest I read it, and send me on my way. We were “friends,” I told confused family members of the billionaire, philanthropist, entrepreneur, writer, intellectual, investor. But really Peter was more like a mentor, of whom I was very much in awe. This is maybe just to say I did a lot of googling for “Peter Thiel” back then, which is how, despite his never having mentioned it, I found his first book: by then a long-forgotten title called The Diversity Myth. Without thinking too deeply over the question of why it never came up, or if perhaps this omission from our conversations were intentional, I hunted down a tattered, old copy, and read it front to back.

Peter co-wrote The Diversity Myth with David Sacks in 1995, following their experience on the politically deranged Stanford campus of the late 1980s and early 1990s. At the time, the phrase for the entire nested series of regressive concepts they were tackling — summed up concisely in the activist chant “hey hey, ho ho, Western Civ has got to go” — was “politically correct.” The trend (philosophy?) was cancerous, the authors forcefully argued. But it was clear from their writing they also found it objectively kind of hilarious. Long story short, they threw a lot of rotten fruit at tedious idiots, and went on to become two of the most important businessmen of our generation. A great read! I endeavored to question Peter all about it over coffee, and assumed he’d find my interest flattering. This, I quickly learned, was not the case.

From my first question, Peter was obviously uncomfortable, affecting much more the demeanor of a suspect under interrogation than a man who just heard the words “hey, I read your book!” When he finally did address the subject, it was just to say that if he had the opportunity to write the book again he’d do things very differently. Peter felt he had perhaps made too big a deal of a slight and silly — if alarming — trend. After all, he predicted the unhinged campus thinking of the early 1990s would seep into the rest of the country. There was a new cultural revolution coming, for which none of us were prepared. But in 2009, when we first met, that all seemed a little bit dramatic, and overall my sense was Peter simply thought he got it wrong. He was, maybe, a little bit embarrassed.

Then, the “mostly peaceful” revolution came. Today it’s 2023, and Peter looks like Nostradamus.

When “political correctness” returned to America circa 2015 or so as if from nowhere, and captured our entire country, we came to simply call it “woke.” But everything about it — its regressive, incoherent politics, its aspirations in power, its fundamentally authoritarian nature — was first diagnosed in The Diversity Myth, now clearly one of the most prescient books of the last three decades. While terrible for the country, this, I thought, was clearly vindication for Peter. I assumed he’d feel differently about his old book today than he did when we first met. But when I broached the subject, once again to my surprise, he was still uncomfortable with the position he was “right.” Well then “what,” I asked, “did you get wrong?”

“Didn’t even get wrong,” he said. “Didn’t even get wrong.”

Sure, everything he argued had proven out correct. And yes, the entire deranged diversity conversation, from 1995 until today, is deserving of scrutiny and ridicule. But the noise of that regressive conversation isn’t the greatest problem we face. The greatest problem we face is decline, along a series of quite essential faults including science, economics, religion, and politics. This is the story we’ve completely missed while busy with our endless culture war, thick in conversation over such vital questions as “is fitness culture white supremacy?”

Today, nearly thirty years after publication of his first book, Peter agreed to sit back down with me and have the conversation we started back in New York City. Here, our interview and retrospective, with notes for the future.




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