An account of the rising generation of Silicon Valleyites, who want it all—and then some.
Peter Thiel has made headlines recently for being the only noted tech leader to support the Donald Trump candidacy. He takes center stage in Wall Street Journal reporter Wolfe’s look at a contrarian experiment of his: take the best and the brightest young people—the nerdier the better—have them unlearn any squishy, soft humanities stuff they may have learned in school, keep them out of college, and train them in think tanks and labs to take their places among the “tribe of overage boys” that constitutes the region’s and world’s tech elite. Leading the class of “Asperger’s chic” wunderkinder in this tale is Jonathan Burnham, who arrives at Thiel’s academy with the matter-of-fact assurance that one day soon he is going to mine asteroids. Guided by a right-wing tech blogger code-named Mencius Moldbug—Wolfe likes this factoid enough to repeat it a couple of times—Burnham makes for the perfect Ayn Rand–ian libertarian in the Hobbesian world of the startup. Others in his class are biotech- or business services–inclined, but all promise to become a new kind of entrepreneur for a happy future world. Thiel, a Stanford graduate, insists ironically here that college isn’t for everyone but “made sense for some people—such as for him,” and in the end his promised shake-up of the whole college-to-career model amounts to a kind of yearlong summer camp for the geekily gifted. Wolfe departs from the standard business/human interest narrative template only to the extent that Burnham does, for by the end of the account, he has found a gaping spiritual void in his life that he fills by enrolling in college and reading Shakespeare and Greek literature as a “needed retreat from the madness he’d just experienced out west.”
Nothing surprising but of some interest to business readers and entrepreneurs looking for ways to “disrupt” education.