What separates Thiel and I
Or, when class is conspicuously absent from an anticommunist worldview.
It has become clear to me over the past two years that Thiel is a person who sits at the bedrock of many issues I have come to take with the industry behind technology and the machinations of American politics (my two favourite things to write about). It wasn’t obvious at first, since I am not a person to search for characters surreptitiously, because I’m not trying to build a narrative before I build a picture of reality first.
I think it’s a good time to talk about what is different between him and I, because on the surface, we are surprisingly similar, being cogent, independent gay men with penchants for computers and power. The difference really just comes down to the ax of every communist: class.
Over the years I have raised countless cats. It started off in earnest when I was in grade school living on the outskirts of Garner, when my mother had brought a few barn cats home for us to play with, never got them fixed, and so they multiplied. All told we probably had over a hundred cats on that property from start to finish, including the strays that were dropped off on our front porch by strangers because it looked like we could handle them better than they cared to. At any one time there were over a dozen cats alive and present for the countless condemned rotisseries my mother’s girlfriend brought home from work at the Golden Corral.
That didn’t last though, and after I spent many years without cats of my own, my mother and I adopted a couple of barn kittens again after high school, which I named Twosret and Seti. They would both have multiple litters, and while Seti and her kittens stayed back when we moved, Twosret and hers came with us. She actually refused to leave after being put out at my aunt’s house, and my husband and I saved her.
Interestingly, Twosret’s first litter was four, and I gave them kitten names since we didn’t know yet which if any were being kept or given away. So I named them Threesret, Foursret, Fivesret, and Sixsret. My husband kept Threesret, who grew up to become Senusret, and my mother kept Foursret, who grew up to become Inyotef. Fivesret was given away to my mother’s girlfriend, who became Luna, and Sixsret was given away to a Mexican family who was friends with us. Luna would later have a litter, and the most handled kitten would be re-gifted back to us the following Christmas, who became Snofru. After many years of cage-mediated courtship, Senusret and Snofru would later have one litter with a single kitten, who we immediately kept and named Semerkhet.
The reason I endeavoured to tell you about all of these cats is because by and large, they are extremely unexceptional, and even doggish at times. They have longer snouts, have no breed about them at all, are very touch-and-go about petting and refuse to be picked up and held like babies, and a few of them even went crazy to a point we couldn’t handle them anymore. To me, these felines were the picture of what it is to be poor by your own heritage, or genetics or whatever you want to call it. Intrinsically.
The miracle of this unexceptionality however was all in the hands of Senusret. Where the other cats were dumb, Senusret was smart. His family would not know names, only callings, yet he himself would literally talk to you in vocabulary-free vocalisms. He would tell you at length how he felt – an astounding thing to hear from a cat. And where his family was hit-and-miss with looks – his mother has a blonde “lucky foot” and all of his siblings were black cats – he was absolutely gorgeous, getting every recessive fur trait to maximise his beauty. His sister and son are smooth long-haired tuxedo cats, while he inherited his mother’s coat thickness. Not only that, but he also inherited her lucky foot onto his entire coat, becoming a fluke gold duster, and he inherited the long hair and white under-coat from his father, Tomás. Senusret was a gift – a statistical unicorn – and we cherished him so.
We didn’t just cherish him for being great, but especially for being so amazing despite where he came from. It wasn’t a story of essentialist inevitability, nor was it some plucky tale about how Senusret was just like everyone else until he proved himself otherwise. No, he was born this way, being a giant living exception. I think in a broad sense these kinds of things happen with people too.
Unfortunately, the worst came to happen last December, and Senusret passed away suddenly in an accident that caused us more familial grief than a cat arguably ever should. It was a painful, angry lesson in how fragile life was, and how important he really was, not just for us, but for all the other cats too. And I think in a broad sense these kinds of things happen with people, too.
Conflict theory always fascinated me the most in my time taking sociology classes in college. This was odd considering I am quite a visceral anticommunist by pedigree, but I think it really just meant that in this sense, they had a valid point, nothing more. I think the lens of class is a big thing that people from richer, more stable upbringings neglect or are afraid to get into. Perhaps they are worried it necessarily implies their doom, I don’t know. But I was raised poor enough that I remember my sister and I pushing a Ford Thunderbird in the rain off of highway 50 until some family in a minivan picked us up and took us home. My mother’s saving grace was her father keeping PB&J stocked all the time no matter what, probably because he had known genuine hunger pangs.
I have an incredibly nuanced perspective about poverty and what it means to be poor. I don’t deny two of the most irredentist positions against the merit of those in poverty: that it may be their own fault, and that it may often be inborn. I’ve seen too much of it myself to believe that those claims can be dismissed out of hand, but I don’t think it is so final an indictment because ultimately, they are still human. I also think that poverty often goes hand-in-hand with being of modest means: people who don’t expect much, who haven’t a lot of desire, who mostly just know what they know and deal within that. In a perspective of moral sin, that is almost the ultimate innocence.
The motor of my moral animus about poverty comes down to the sanctity of human dignity and cherishing a sense of grand perspective about people who are sociologically and politically small by nature. I don’t lionise poor people or liken them to Christ, but I am so compelled to remind you all that there are Senusrets out there.
When you are pressed with the question of whether democracy is worth having, like Thiel has been over the years, you have to remember that you are asking this question not in service of people who do not and will never understand their own politics. You are asking it in service of Senusrets, the rare, talented few who may rise up out of the ether in spite of the entire world, and set a standard for us all that we never even thought possible.
We don’t bolt the door of democracy open for the people who were never going to be better anyways. We bolt that door open so that it isn’t preemptively shut to the Senusrets out there that you cannot anticipate or predict, and who are so easy to break and lose forever. It’s for people who are truly and obviously special like that, and given the kind of company Peter has kept in the past few decades, I have serious doubts he would understand the meaning of that.
And hey, if you don’t care for the sappy, moralising lens of my late cat to take this message home, there are plenty of other examples I can point you to of individuals who came thundering into this world without a shred of concern for what people were going to think of them. Heads up: if you don’t let them in, they’re not going to knock.