Last week Mary Harrington published a long interview with Peter Thiel in the online magazine Unherd. Much of her article centers on Thiel’s conviction that meaningful technological progress stopped a good half century ago. This view is not unique to Thiel. In many ways it is the starting point for the entire “Progress Studies” movement. The Thielites and the Progress Studies folk take this shared premise to different end points, but both deem scientific inertia as the defining feature of the 21st century. Both also see technological and material stagnation as the root source of myriad ills tearing at America’s social fabric.
Here is Thiel’s description of the problem, as written up by Harrington:
A Scholar’s Stage forum member reports that he and a friend recently finished reading John Darwin’s After Tamerlane. Enraptured by Darwin’s account of flourish and fall, they ask what else they might read to understand the rise and decline of peoples and powers over the course of human history.
In my mind there are four central parts to this tale:
The American national security complex has a long list of 21st century defeats to its name. I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few months trying to understand some of these failures. But if any meaningful reform is to occur and competence is to be restored too high office, it is just as important to identify and understand successes. Otherwise, there are no targets to reform the system towards.
What did I get wrong in 2020? What did I change my mind about? As I have argued that the mark of a good mind is a willingness to admit mistakes and to come to terms with why one might have made them, I am now forced into the uncomfortable position of trying to live […]
The big trend in writing and journalism in the year 2020—other than the New York Times continued conquest of everything in print—is the flowering of the Substackerati. Hardly a day goes by without some famous figure announcing their new hope you will become a new subscriber to a new newsletter they are writing on this […]
Image Source “You’re ten years younger than I am, Dacha, and so the Master means more to you. We of the old guard, we were trained to depend upon ourselves, we had no use for masters, except those anointed by trust. But to the snot-nose brats of the next generation, intoxicated by the loudspeakers, no […]
A supposed bust of Alcibiades. Image source. I spent the later part of my teenage years in the forbidding climes of southeastern Minnesota. In those days I’d often hear a joke that I sometimes still repeat: “In Minnesota we have four seasons: near-winter, winter, still-winter,… and road construction.” Minnesota’s northern reaches are pockmarked with lakes […]
“Let us go forward as with other matters and other measures similar in aim and effect – let us go forward in malice to none and good will to all. Such plans offer far better prizes than taking away other people’s provinces or lands or grinding them down in exploitation. The empires of the future […]
What does Darwin have to do with terracotta warriors, samurai armies, or Napoleon’s conquests? Quite a lot. Or at least this is what I argue in a paper I finished back in April. I anticipated refining it with extra research in the months since then. This hope was not realized. Other projects have consumed my […]