Brave Thinkers? Peter Thiel wants to buy your kid’s ideas. Brilliant!

Okay, I subscribe to the Atlantic Monthly, but I’m not sure why.  If it weren’t for James Fallows I would not even breathe a positive sigh in its direction.  Mostly I see it as an indicator of how far we’ve fallen as thinking creatures.  I mean, they publish, promote and pay Jeffrey Goldberg.

One might be a bit melancholy about this–The Atlantic is one of our longest running publications, begun in 1857.

Surprisingly, it has a terrible Wikipedia entry, but here is how it begins (I’ve highlighted the key phrase to keep in mind throughout):

The Atlantic is an American magazine founded (as The Atlantic Monthly) in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1857. It was created as a literary and cultural commentary magazine. It quickly achieved a national reputation, which it held for more than a century. It was important for recognizing and publishing new writers and poets, and encouraging major careers. It published leading writers’ commentary on abolition, education, and other major issues in contemporary political affairs.

Its current format is of a general editorial magazine. Focusing on “foreign affairs, politics, and the economy [as well as] cultural trends,” it is primarily aimed at a target audience of “thought leaders.”

The magazine’s founders were a group of prominent writers of national reputation, who included Harriet Beecher Stowe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., John Greenleaf Whittier and James Russell Lowell. Lowell was its first editor

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. The editor-in-chief as of November 2009 is James Bennet. The publisher as of November 2009 is Jay Lauf, who is also a vice-president of Atlantic Media Company.

That’s an august and venerable tradition, right?  Now, we get Goldberg and Megan McArdle, rank amateurs as thinkers and pure hacks for political and economic ideology.  How Fallows can stand to be in the same publication is beyond me.

However, it is the McArdle/Goldberg style that has gone into the recent “Brave Thinkers” profiles.  You and I don’t likely have time for the entirety of this list so I’ll say two things.  First, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is on it (this snatch of inanity penned by Goldberg).

And the second thing need a bit more attention.  The second “brave thinker” on the list is Peter Thiel.  Here’s some of his Wikipedia entry:

Peter Andreas Thiel (born 1967) is an American entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and hedge fund manager of German descent. With Elon Musk and Max Levchin, Thiel co-founded PayPal and was its CEO. He currently serves as president of Clarium Capital, a global macro hedge fund with under $700M in assets under management, and a managing partner in The Founders Fund, a $275 million venture capital fund that he launched with Ken Howery and Luke Nosek in 2005. He was an early investor in Facebook, the popular social-networking site, and sits on the company’s board of directors. Thiel was ranked #365 on the Forbes 400 in 2010, with a net worth of US$1.5 billion.  However, this number now underestimates his wealth as his Facebook share alone, at a 2010 valuation, is worth US$1.7 billion.  Peter Thiel lives in San Francisco, California.

He is dubbed, in his AM profile penned by the vacuous McArdle, a “technology entrepreneur”. He’s apparently on the list because he’s offering a kind of internship of $100k to 24 “kids” to forgo college and think of something entrepreneury–in other words, something Thiel can own, market, and sell.

I will delineate here the “brave thinking” of Thiel’s that McArdle conveys…it won’t tax you.

  1. “I think it’s best for people to actually try to think about the future and not default to education,” he has said.
  2. Student-loan debt is “actually worse than a bad mortgage,” he has said. “You have to get rid of the future you wanted, to pay off all the debt from the fancy school that was supposed to give you that future.”

That’s it.  Honest.  Out of 621 words approximately 50 of them are directly attributed to this brave billionaire and font of technological and educational wisdom.  (Hey, psst, do you think it’s so “scary” that it takes bravery to front $2.4M in cash when you’re a multi-billionaire?  And when you’re simply gambling that your investment of that pittance will pay off?)

The rest of the worlds are McArdle’s and seem very personal.  Here is her argument.  This is not brave nor does it highlight her purported “thinker”:

If we all went to college for the sheer joy of reading Proust, that would be nice; but most parents wouldn’t pay $100,000 just to have a school instill respect for middle-class values; that’s what parents are supposed to do. Parents send their kids to college because they know that people who have college diplomas earn a lot more money than people who don’t (about 71 percent more, annually, than the average high-school graduate, according to the latest census data).

But it’s not always clear what employers are getting in return for paying so much. Evidence indicates that educational credentials don’t signal what you’ve learned so much as the fact that you’re the sort of person who got admitted to a big-name school. When I showed up for business-school orientation at the University of Chicago, a woman in the career-services office said, “We could stick you guys on a cruise ship for two years, and you’d be fine.”

At least the credentials used to be cheap. Since 1982, while the Consumer Price Index has more than doubled, the cost of higher education has risen more than fourfold. Partly because of this price increase, the meritocratic system is hardening into yet another vehicle for entrenching privilege: a way for the educated elite to ensure that their children maintain the same status. The less fortunate graduate has tens of thousands in student loans, which can keep her from buying a home or starting a family…

The elite-educated McArdle, cozily ensconced in one of the countries most “institutionalized” publications, has nothing but disdain for her own background and for your “middle class” aspirations.

What does she suggest you do instead?  She has no suggestions, and neither does Thiel, he just wants to snatch the “ideas” out of 24 applicants before they get lost in Proust.

I say bring on the madeleines.


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  1. Sarah Stup October 13, 2011 at 8:21 am

    I’m sure this is easily done online in a few minutes, but I’d be curious to see a timeline of the magazine’s visual design. Upon first glance, I always think it’s some random pop magazine that somehow made its way to me. Perhaps I’ll do some research and follow-up on this post. I think the way the Atlantic presents the contents of their magazine speaks loudly of something,although I am not prepared to make a more in depth statement just yet. Stay tuned…

  2. Douglas Storm October 13, 2011 at 9:00 am

    Well, I don’t disagree…but it’s about as lazy as anything I can imagine. There is no description, no criteria…just thumbnails for idiots…”trust us because we are the Atlantic and we are smarter than you and have the right perspective…no need for the details or the ambiguities of any situation. Hurry up and agree with us.”

  3. Pingback: Homo Moronus: Institutionalizing Ignorance One Voucher at a Time

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