By Dominic Gwinn, Staff Reporter
Peter Thiel, co-founder of the internet payment system, Paypal, addressed an audience of students, faculty and alumni during Roosevelt University’s first ever American Dream: Reconsidered conference. The controversial businessman was joined by Roosevelt philosophy professor and director of the Montesquieu Forum for the Study of Civic Life, Stuart Warner, for a conversation about globalization, technology and progress sponsored by the Jack Miller Center.
Thiel expressed his views on a number of subjects ranging from globalization, the obsessive personalities prevalent in Silicon Valley, American exceptionalism, student debt, as well as a critique of collegiate institutions.
“Globalization tells people the lie that they will get to rule the world,” commented Thiel. “It’s this really big place, and it’s really exciting because you get to rule the world, you just have to live in New York and then you get to rule the world. Once you get to New York it turns out that a lot of people have been told that lie.”
Thiel lamented the concept of exceptionalism inherent within the American Dream, stating that the idea will more likely foster an attitude of laziness rather than one of successful innovation and progress.
“In the past there’s more opportunity and more freedom to do more things,” Thiel opined about the American Dream. “It can very easily flip to something where it becomes, we’re exceptional so we don’t need to do anything…[then] they’re exceptionally convinced that they’re exceptional, which may make them exceptionally unexceptional.”
In a brief comment to The Torch, Roosevelt President Ali Malekzadeh, stated that Thiel had, “interesting opinions,” and that, as a successful businessman, the university was, “glad to have him here.”
Nineteen year-old sophomore and computer science major, Drew Wilson, offered praise for Thiel’s criticisms.
“It was honestly amazing,” Wilson beamed. “He said a lot of things that I agreed with, a lot of things that I think needed to be said. It was definitely a worthwhile experience.”
During a lengthy statement on the state of colleges and student debt, Thiel likened the current state of higher education to insurance, insisting that college has become less of a investment in the future and more of purchased commodity that aids students in avoiding the pitfalls of society.
“So, even if it’s not a great investment it’s still important to our insurance,” stated Thiel. “It’s why parents take up so much money to send their kids on take up so much institutional debt. Whenever we’re spending this much on insurance I think we should be asking the underlying question, why have the cracks in our society gotten so big that the people are spending more and more on insurance? That would be a good question to ask, and it gets obscured by education.”
Thiel concluded that college, in his view, had become a club of exclusivity, and that most institutions maintain growth by purposefully keeping enrollment numbers low, thereby increasing demand at elite institutions.
“What they really are is like a Studio 54 nightclub with an enormous line of people outside waiting to get in,” Thiel joked. “That’s what a college looks like, and that’s where you get an insurance policy. It’s when you conflate a college with an insurance policy I think you end up with some really rash decisions.”
Sophomore Charlie Sell, a 19 year-old Psychology major, enjoyed the presentation. “I thought it was fantastic. I really thought that the way Professor Warner engaged the interview with Peter Thiel was very well done. I thought a lot of the topics discussed were really crucial to a lot of things going on in our country and the world today.”
Not everyone was entirely pleased with Thiel’s comments though. Psychology major Essyl Ghim, a 30 year-old senior, felt that Thiel’s beliefs about technology were ill informed from historical context.
“I think it’s always important to hear it from another angle because it broadens the way you think,” said Ghim upon reflection. “I’ll definitely have more things to talk about when people bring up globalism.”
Earlier this summer Thiel spoke at the Republican National Convention where he expressed support for the Republican presidential nominee, Donald J. Trump, and called for a relaxation of government regulations to foster the growth of private industries, a sentiment echoed several times throughout the conversation.