Going from Zero To One, or Rising from the Dead

Life’s about having your own secret.


Peter Thiel is an interesting guy.

He was one of the founders of PayPal, the first ‘angel investor’ of Facebook, and he has recently been in the news for two things: Giving a speech endorsing Trump, and funding Hulk Hogan’s major law suit against Gawker as revenge for invading his privacy and discussing his homosexual orientation.

On top of this, he is currently throwing money at ways of discovering biological immortality, and he also pays young entrepreneurs not to go to university (which he believes is a scam).

This makes him an intriguing, if not somewhat sinister public figure!

But I find him interesting for three separate reasons.

The first is his business philosophy, which he puts forward in his book Zero to One. The core idea here is that competition is for losers and that entrepreneurs should not try to compete against existing companies and their products and services, but rather should seek to become monopolies that offer something completely new. Think Facebook or PayPal. To do this, a company needs its own ‘secret’ or ‘thesis statement’.

Once you have a monopoly, you don’t need to worry about grinding out in a race to the bottom of profitability with competitors. Instead, you can devote energy to being a pioneer who changes the world.

The second interesting thing about Peter Thiel is his public advocacy of one of the past century’s great intellectuals, René Girard, who taught Thiel at Stanford.

Girard taught that the human desire to imitate, or envy, is at the heart of all human pursuits. We want something not because we value it, but because others value it. Think love triangles and advertising. Girard called his concept of envy mimetic desire.

For Girard, this envy leads to chaos that is only calmed by identifying an enemy that the group can hate together. This enemy becomes the scapegoat that allows us to draw together as a group again. We do this when we gossip; our political leaders do this; and most myths and old religions do this – when they make violence ‘sacred’.

This, incidentally, is one of the reasons Thiel hates competition – because competition is not about achieving something or self-actualisation, but rather about beating somebody else, about becoming somebody else even, other than yourself. In binary terms, you quibble over fractions, rather than leaping from zero to one.

But at the heart of Girard’s big idea was the belief that Christianity provides a way out of this competitive mess. Jesus, as the Son of God, defeats the scapegoating mechanism by freely offering himself as an innocent victim to the human mob. By doing so, he short circuits the process and opens a new way – a way of living life without the desire to beat others or be other than yourself.

God is not on the side of the mob, the scapegoaters, the winners – but rather the victims.

Christianity as a priestly religion is therefore about opting out of this mimetic violence – living in love not in envy and competition. This is God’s kingdom.

As Thiel has noted, this is not just a way to live personally, but also to build your career.

Be yourself. Find something new. Go from zero to one. Rise from the dead.