As the conclusion of an appropriately wide-ranging portrait of Peter Thiel, comes this vivid description of the dynamic double-bind that structures advanced modernity and mandates innovation:
When people look into the future, Thiel explains to me, the consensus is that globalization will take its course, with the developing world coming to look like the developed world. But people don’t focus on the dark, Malthusian reality of what that will mean, absent major technological breakthroughs not currently in any pipeline.
“If everyone in China has a gas-guzzling car, we’ll have oil at $10 per gallon and enormous pollution,” he observes.
But that’s just the start, because without growth there will also be increasing political instability. Instability will lead to global conflict, and that in turn may lead to what in a 2007 essay he referred to as” secular apocalypse” — total extinction of the human race through either thermonuclear war, biological contagion, unchecked climate change, or an array of competing Armageddon scenarios.
“That’s why,” he says, with characteristic understatement and aplomb, “I think the stakes in this are not just, ‘Are we going to have some new gadgets?’”