Discover more from HIGH MODERNISM
Or, how to be a tribal thinker
Peter Thiel’s Zero to One changed how people think. The change is captured in the book’s key question: “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?” Respond with a decent answer and you might have a shot at starting a great company. Better yet, you might be an independent thinker.
In an ironic response to Thiel, we have become contrarians in his image. Our knee jerk response is disagreement. Contrarianism is the norm. It’s our default mode of thinking.
But contrarianism, especially reflexive contrarianism, has limits. It quickly becomes, “In fact, good things are bad” — a low effort troll. Or it leads to specious claims and fly by night ideologies, whose only virtue is their opposition to consensus. It’s mindless counter-signaling under the guise of profundity.
Thiel wanted to inspire focused contrarians to relentlessly pursue a single truth. Yet instead of these singleminded, constructive contrarians, prepared to build what society did not know it wanted, we ended up with contrarians afflicted with skepticism, irony, and defeatism.
We’re facing the limits of contrarianism.
What’s next? We need tribal thinkers. A tribal thinker joins a group of like minded people and works constructively within it. They will appreciate good ideas and cultivate them. They develop their group’s theories and build towards its mission. While tribes will be built on a contrarian idea (lest they not be a tribe at all), they will be powered by constructive thinking. Tribal thinkers won’t be afraid to challenge their tribe's approach to a problem, but they won’t undermine it as the contrarian would.
Contrarians might get attention on Twitter, but tribal thinkers will win. The reason is very simple: Collaboration is key to success. We have big problems and plausible approaches of how to solve them. But solutions won’t be worked out by contrarians—they will be worked out by those who can work together. I’m interested in following and working with groups who effectively coordinate around solving the most important problems.
Dare to agree.
I’m moving my writing to Substack. Subscribe for my blogging and updates about other work. I’ll be expanding on these themes and more in future posts.