Redpill Case Study: Rachel Maddow is Fake News?
During the election I relied heavily on Rachel Maddow to both inform me on facts of the news that day and then help me make sense of them. She is obviously brilliant. After completing her undergraduate degree at Stanford she went on to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar where she recieved a DPhil (Doctor of Philosophy) in politics. She speaks eloquently and always gives ample background when introducing an important topic (sometimes to a fault.) She’s a really smart woman. Because of this I turned to her podcast every night (which is just the full audio of her nightly show) for her analysis. I even recommended her to friends as a stand out example of someone much better than the typical news commentator. This background of nothing but admiration and respect is why I was so shocked when I saw the following video.
While I admired and respected Maddow, I also admired and respected Peter Thiel. The way that Maddow described him in this clip felt off. This description of him didn’t sound anything like the guy I had been reading (Zero to One…great book of his) or watching on YouTube. That being said I also wasn’t familiar with all the specific things she was referencing. Maybe I was mistaken. So I looked into it. I’ll walk you through that process again with me: (what follows is a transcription of most of the video but not all, I recommend you watch the full video embedded above before and after reading this. It would also be worth checking out his RNC speech itself.)
The clip begins with a quick, factual CV:
“He’s a founder of PayPal. He’s a young billionaire.”
True. Go on.
“Of course what he just said there, we just heard from him on the culture wars issue. That’s very controversial for most Republican conventions. He said, ‘Fake culture wars only distract us from our economic decline. Now we are told the great debate is about who gets to use which bathroom, this is a distraction from our real problems. Who cares?’ And you heard the distinctly mixed message that he got there from the floor, even before he said “I am proud to be gay” which is an absolutely historic statment for the podium from any Republican National Convention.”
This was different from most Republican Conventions. Trump was not a typical Republican candidate, and his MAGA supporters were largely enthusiastic because of this difference, not in spite of it. Thiel’s desire to move away from the culture wars of the past decades is a sentiment supported by many in this new center/new right space. So far, everything she has said has been true to who Thiel is in my understanding. I don’t think he would disagree with her portrayal as of yet. Outside of the reaction to his pronouncement “I am proud to be gay” which seemed almost entirely positive from the video, while she claims it was mixed. But maybe it was different in the room. Not a big deal. When I was watching no alarm bells had sounded. Until:
“It’s interesting though. Peter Thiel has a lot of different, sort of, controversies that follow him into this. Most recently he has been in the news because he has waged a, sort of, ‘one billionaire war’ against an online news source that had been critical of him.”
I was very familiar with this story. Largely because Rachel Maddow had reported extensively on it over the prior weeks and months. Her coverage from her nightly show (like in this video) didn’t match my impression of who Peter Thiel was, so I had already looked into it further, independent of Maddow’s coverage. What she describes as “an online news source that had been critical of him” is more accurately described as “an online tabloid that outed him as gay.”
With the headline “Peter Thiel is totally gay, people” Gawker decided for him that it was time to come out. Thiel described the event like this,
“I also know what it feels like to have one’s own privacy violated. In 2007, I was outed by the online gossip blog Gawker. It wasn’t so many years ago, but it was a different time: Gay men had to navigate a world that wasn’t always welcoming, and often faced difficult choices about how to live safely and with dignity. In my case, Gawker decided to make those choices for me. I had begun coming out to people I knew, and I planned to continue on my own terms. Instead, Gawker violated my privacy and cashed in on it.”
While the conversation surrounding whether or not his funding of Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker was appropriate (or savvy) is totally valid, framing his history with Gawker as “an online news source that had been critical of him” is woefully misleading. Surely Maddow recognizes the difference between critical coverage and personal privacy invasions. If so why did she choose to describe it so sloppily? After explaining the lawsuit briefly she continues on to her next critique:
“He’s also been an internationalist critic of, uh, Democracy. And this is what I actually think is the most interesting thing about the RNC’s decsision to put him on. Very famously, in 2009, he wrote an essay in which he said ‘I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.’ And he’s arguing against democracy as a sutible form of government for humans. Um, and he doesn’t want that in the United States, and he doesn't want that around the world. He thinks democracy is outmoded and inappropriate, particularly since women got the right to vote.”
Woah. This DID NOT sound like the libertarian Peter Thiel I knew of, but I had never heard of this essay. Maybe I was wrong about him. So I googled it. It was easy to find. In his 2009 response essay titled “The Education of a Libertarian” Thiel sure enough writes the quote “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible,” but there are an additional 1100 words surronding them. That an incendiary and intriguing sentence though, what was he saying?
After reading the piece in its entirety I was reassured: this is exactly the Thiel I knew. I encourage you to read the entire essay, it’s brief and interesting. Thiel is an extremly contrarian first principles thinker, which is why I enjoy his ideas so much. But in case you choose not to read it, let’s look at a few of Maddow’s claims.
- “He’s an internationalist critic of democracy”
- In this essay, and elsewhere, he is certainly critical of some of the consequences of democracy. This is not to say that he doesn’t believe in democracy. Why is it black and white to Maddow? During and after the election Maddow was very critical of the nomination and election of Donald Trump (a democratic winner of the primary and election.) Is Maddow a critic of democracy? Technically, yes. By this standard so is Thiel. But this isn’t her implication. Thiel’s primary point in the essay is not that we should scrap democracy and start over (Maddow’s implication) but instead that some of our most future altering innovations may need to occur outside the democratic process. Or, instead of trying to vote our way to the future we want, Thiel suggests we find creative solutions to build it. Legally, but extrapolitically. His suggetions are unique and thought provoking. Read the essay!
2. “He’s arguing against democracy as a sutible form of government for humans. He doesn’t want that in the United States, and he doesn’t want that around the world.”
- Refer to the above rebutal. Anyone who has intelligently read this essay knows this isn’t true. If Rachel Maddow read it and walked away with this idea to share with her viewers she is either a) not smart or b) dishonest. But we already established that she is clearly smart.
3. “He thinks democracy is outmoded and inappropriate, particularly since women got the right to vote”
- This critique stems from a point Thiel made about the changing role of governments over the 20th centrury. He wrote,
“Indeed, even more pessimistically, the trend (political libertarianism and free market capitalism) has been going the wrong way for a long time. To return to finance, the last economic depression in the United States that did not result in massive government intervention was the collapse of 1920–21. It was sharp but short, and entailed the sort of Schumpeterian “creative destruction” that could lead to a real boom. The decade that followed — the roaring 1920s — was so strong that historians have forgotten the depression that started it. The 1920s were the last decade in American history during which one could be genuinely optimistic about politics. Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women — two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians — have rendered the notion of “capitalist democracy” into an oxymoron.”
Is he saying “since women can vote it’s all ruined and we need to do away with democracy or their suffrage as a result?” Maybe to the trigger prone reader. But look at what he is saying (again it’s best read within the context of the whole piece): Welfare recipients and women (two populations) tend to vote against libertarian economic/political ideals (which is to say for more government programs and social safety nets). He is making no claim about each individual in those populations or suggesting that they do not deserve the right to vote as a result. And, importantly, what he is saying is statistically accurate. This paragraph of his essay caused so much backlash at the time of his writing it that he wrote an addendum to clarify his point:
“I had hoped my essay on the limits of politics would provoke reactions, and I was not disappointed. But the most intense response has been aimed not at cyberspace, seasteading, or libertarian politics, but at a commonplace statistical observation about voting patterns that is often called the gender gap.
It would be absurd to suggest that women’s votes will be taken away or that this would solve the political problems that vex us. While I don’t think any class of people should be disenfranchised, I have little hope that voting will make things better.”
I guess Maddow just missed that part. Hmmm.
After Maddow made these points, her copanalist Eugene Robinson seemed (like me) surprised and (like a journalist) dug deeper:
“That’s very interesting though, so he would prefer a more authoritarian form of governemnt? Is that his idea?”
Thank you Eugene. You are doing your job. She responds:
“When I said before the break that he had excentric views, this is sort of what I meant. He’s been one of the seasteader guys. He has advocated the creation of new countries created by shipping containers that are in international waters so they can be libertarian paradises, but you have to live on a shipping container floating in the ocean.”
“He also believes that, he intends in his lifetime to beat death. He believes that with enough investment he will become a cyber creature that will never die. And he thinks that that is the future.”
He touches on seasteading in that previous essay. It’s a very out of the box solution indeed. I wonder how ridiculous Maddow would have thought the great inventors throughout history were when they were proposing novel solutions to old problems. If only she could have been there for Edison and Tesla’s early electrical power grids. “You want to put electricity inside my home? Haha-hehe-hohoho!” Rachel, outside the box ideas always sound crazy by definition. Will seatseading work? Like most inventions/ideas, probably not. But don’t laugh at the innovators for their failures (if it becomes one) while appreciating the successes. Survivorship bias is real. Again, Maddow is smart enough to know this. So why is she doing it? His attempts to “beat death” while framed in a sort of comic book super villain way, is rooted in truth. Why is the desire to extend the human life span and life quality laughable? We have done this (extremely successfully) for the past two centuries, to everybody’s benefit. Too bad Maddow wasn’t there to tell doctors in the 1850s that their desire to extend life duration and quality was stupid.
Maddow then asks the panel republican his opinions on Thiel. He says that “He’s an interesting guy, a provocateur…” (True) and then makes a very obvious point (hopefully) to distance himself from the “tough nut” Maddow just presented to him.
“You know Winston Churchill had it right when you talk about democracy, ‘It’s the worst form of government ever devised by man except for all of its alternatives’ and um, we haven’t found a better one.”
Yes. I’m sure real Thiel (as opposed to your strawman) would agree. Maddow then follows that with:
“It’s hard for me to grasp why it isn't more controversial that the Republican party would have somebody address its convention in prime time who is against a democratic form of government.”
Good. You’re onto something. Why would the Republican Party support someone against democracy? Doesn’t add up. Maybe they aren’t supporting that. Maybe you have constructed a straw man version of who Thiel is.
Again Eugene Robinson (probably the most reasonable voice on this panel, and I’ll point out, a Michigan alumnus) interjects with some wisdom, “Well most people don’t know that (Thiel doesn’t believe in democracy).” Bingo. And they don’t know that BECAUSE IT’S NOT TRUE. You’re boxing a ghost Maddow. Your opponent doesn’t exist.
In the most ironic closing statement possible Maddow ends with this:
“They’re (The RNC) helping to make him a household name by giving him this speaking slot, I hope that, I hope that it happens with appropriate context.”
It’s nice to end on a point of agreement. Yes Rachel, I too hope Thiel and his ideas receive the appropriate context.
So all of this begs the question: why? Well, I think this is a perfect example of how a matrix-bound representative of a center of excellence (mainstream media in this example) responds to a redpilled real world occupant (if this sentance makes no sense to you read my Matrix vs Bubbles essay.) She cannot even engage in the discussion because his ideas and worldview don’t map onto her understood reality (in the matrix.) He’s not a sanctioned thinker ergo his ideas are not “innovative” or “outside the box” but instead they are “crazy” and “ridiculous” (Read Eric Weinstein’s Edge essay on russell conjugation.) The best way to argue against this foe is to discredit them through strawmen arguments and misrepresentation (also see: “Ben Shapiro is a neonazi” type “arguments”) rather than have to contest with a version of their ideas in a way that they themselves would agree with (steelmanning.) Around convention time, Thiel himself was especially threatening. A brilliant, successful, elloquent, gay conservative enthusiastically supporting Trump and not Hillary Clinton (let alone even a normal, “non-Hitlerian” like Trump, republican.) When the DNC is about to embark on an identity politics fueled campaign against Blonde Hitler and the RNC, we simply can’t have this level of dissent from a high profile gay public intellectual.
Maddow is really smart. I listened to her nightly for over a year (and on and off since she began on MSNBC.) If you have listened to her you probably agree. So if you have any intellectual honestly you’d HAVE TO ask yourself: How did she let this blatant mischaracterization happen? If it wasn’t on accident (stupidity) then it was intentional (dishonesty.) It was a rude awakening to discover someone I thought was so fair and ethical was willing to bend the rules if it fit her ideological agenda. I recognized this becaue of my familiarity with Thiel, but what lies and misrepresentations did I miss because of my ignorance on other topics? Once it’s clear that someone is willing to lie as long as it suits them, can you trust them to always be honest in the future?
If Thiel isn’t an idiot and makes an interesting and intelligent case for Trump (I think he does) then the media will have a hard time portraying Trump supporters as only racist uninformed voters (troglodyte quadrant of Weinstein’s four quadrants.) If such a case exists, they would instead have to contest with the ideas of this non troglodyte MAGA voter. But having a debate about ideas would be “normalizing” this election. A term often used as a pejorative recently.
Whatever the explanation, Rachel Maddow fans should be concerned about this. I certainly was. I would love to hear her response to my criticism. Maybe if more of her fans asked her for one she would provide it. If you’re a fan of hers, is this concerning to you? If not, why?